40 years on, is Ghana ready to lift another AFCON trophy?

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This year is exactly 40 years ago since the fearsome Black Stars of Ghana won their 4th African Cup of Nations trophy.

The tournament hosted by Libya was the 4th time the Black Stars had won the much cherished trophy, after beating host nation Libya 8-7 on penalties. Sadly, it was also the last time.

Ghana  had a formidable squad made up of old and young players comprising Joseph Carr, Owusu Mensah, John Baker Haruna Yusif, Acquye McClean, Kwasi Appiah, Hesse Odamtten, Kwame Sampson, Sampson Lamptey, Seth Ampadu, Isaac Paha, Albert Asaase, Abedi Pele, Emmanuel Quarshie (Capt), Kofi Badu, John Bannerman, John Essien, Windsor Kofi Abbrey, Opoku Nti, Opoku Afriyie, George Alhassan and Ben Kayede. 

The team was coached by the respected C.K. Gyamfi. 

Obviously, winning the much cherished continental diadem for no mean four times meant the Black Stars were clear of any other national team and was going to dominate this tournament for many years to come, yes. No!

At the next tournament in 1984 to defend the title in Cote d’Ivoire rather saw a very shambolic performance from Ghana. The Black Stars lost two matches and though won a consoling third match, the team was kicked out at the group stage of the tournament in what the press at the time aptly nicknamed “The Bouake Debacle”. 

It was going to be messier as between 1986 and 1990 the Black Stars could not qualify to the African Cup of Nations. It would take the coming of German Coach Burkhard Ziese to get the Black Stars to qualify to the next tournament in 1992.

Coached by another German Otto Pfister (Feester to the rest of us, Faister to Moses Foh-Amoaning), the Black Stars made it to the grand final of Senegal 1992 and faced a formidable Ivorian national team, The Elephants. A marathon penalty shootout ended Ghana’s dream of winning the fifth AFCON when the Black Stars lost 10-11 to the Elephants, with their goalie Alain Gouamene emerging the hero.

For many people, this was a missed opportunity for Ghana to increase the number of times the trophy was won as it had the most formidable team ever paraded at the AFCON. The team which had such great players as Edward Ansah, Salifu Ansah, Abukari Damba, Nii Darko Ankrah, Kwesi Appiah, Frimpong Manso, Emmanuel Armah, Tony Baffoe, Prince Polley, Stanley Aborah, Sarfo Gymafi, Nii Odartey Lamptey, Ali Ibrahim, Tony Yeboah and Abedi Pele, etc. has been described by some (including former Black Stars captain Stephen Appiah) as the greatest assembling of a Black Stars team ever. I believe so too.

From then on it has been one struggle after another as the hunt for the fifth AFCON became a mirage every time Ghana tried. There have been times the Black Stars didn’t qualify, there have been times they made it to the final (2010 and 2015) and lost and there have been times they got kicked at the  quarter final or even the group stage. In summary, the only thing the Black Stars have yet to do is win the damned trophy again.

Ghana has since hosted the tournament twice. Co-hosted with Nigeria in 2000 and solely hosted in 2008, and despite swearing to “host and win”, it ended in tears on both occasions for Ghana when Cameroon won in 2000 and Egypt won in 2008 respectively.

I don’t remember how long the Israelites were in the wilderness for before arriving at the promised land, but I know the Black Stars have been trying to win the African Cup of Nations trophy for 40 years! This just means that any Ghanaian who is 40 years or below has never seen his or her heroes lift the AFCON trophy. How sad!

Which begs the question: Is this the lucky year for the Black Stars? Can Serbian Milovan Rajevac lead this motley of footballers to win the much elusive trophy? Is the team capable of doing what the Abedi Peles, Tony Yeboah, Osei Kuffours, Michael Essiens, Stephen Appiahs, Sule Muntaris, John Mensahs, Asamoah Gyans, etc. failed to do in the last generation and some?

There is no denying the fact that many Ghanaian football fans have lost not just confidence in the Black Stars, but also faith in the senior national team. Many people don’t trust the Stars to do any good to win and even so, some can’t be bothered.

However, realistically is there a chance the Stars would end the 40 years of trying with a victory in Cameroon?  Can the team made up of the below players win us the fifth AFCON trophy?

Goalkeepers: Joseph Wolacott (Swindon Town), Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (Eupen), Richard Attah (Hearts of Oak), Lawrence Ati Zigi (St. Gallen)

Defenders: Andy Yiadom (Reading FC), Philemon Baffuor (Dreams FC), Baba Abdul Rahman (Reading FC), Gideon Mensah (Girondins Bordeaux), Daniel Amartey (Leicester City), Alexander Djiku (Strasbourg FC), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Khalid Abdul Mumin (Vitoria de Guimaraes)

Midfielders: Baba Iddrissu (Real Mallorca), Edmund Addo (Sherif Tiraspol), Thomas Teye Partey (Arsenal FC), Mubarak Wakaso (Shenzhen FC), Mohammed Kudus (Ajax Amsterdam), Daniel Kofi Kyere (St. Pauli), David Abagna (Real Tamale United)

Wingers: Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Dreams FC), Samuel Owusu (Al-Fayha), Kamal Deen Suleymana (Rennes FC), Dede Ayew (Al Sadd SC), Joseph Paintsil (Genk)

Strikers: Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace), Richmond Boakye Yiadom (Beitar Jerusalem), Maxwell Abbey Quaye (Great Olympics), Benjamin Tetteh (Malatyaspor).

There is one thing we should do as citizens to help upend this hoodoo placed on the Black Stars. Support the players with all our heart and rally our spirits behind their efforts. It is true that other participating countries have stronger teams than Ghana, but there have been upsets on tournaments with focus and determination. Zambia in AFCON, Greece and Denmark in Eurpean championships and Chile in Copa America, to name a few have all shown this could be done.

It starts today 9th January in Cameroon and it is the hope of all well meaning patriotic Ghanaians that by the end, and despite whatever misgivings some our compatriots may have against the Black Stars, we live in hope that Dede Ayew and his mates would do what his father, his mates and those who have tried in the last generation couldn’t do. May the Lord and the spirit of the Black Star of Africa be with the Black Stars Ghana!

By Francis Doku

The author is an arts writer and General Manager of MG TV