When Andre Ayew leapt above his markers to score Ghana’s winning goal against South Africa, it was more than a physical leap, it was a moral one too. Ghana had just beaten South Africa for the first time in an Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) game after back to back defeats in 1996 in South Africa and 2000 on home soil.
Indeed it was the first time Ghana had even scored a goal against the South Africans in 3 AFCON matchups, the other being a draw in 2002 in Mali. So, the win was more than 3 points, it was poignant in many ways; it was testament to the Black Stars’ tough mentality, having recovered from an opening day defeat to beat Algeria 1-0; South African 2-1 and Guinea 3-0. That last victory ensured the Black Stars qualified for the semifinal for the fifth consecutive AFCON tournament. Although the team is witnessing a steady progress in the tourney, another semifinal appearance wouldn’t excite anyone as much as winning the actual trophy for the fifth time, the first since 1982, would. For some reason, 2015 feels like the year Ghana wins “the Penta” to end a 33-year drought; three reasons tells me so.
For the first time in many years, it actually looks like there is competition for places in the Black Stars team. In the last 3 games, players have had to raise their performance or risk warming the cold bench. If that was in doubt, ask Awal Mohammed and Rabiu Mohammed who started the first game versus Senegal and got chopped. Ask Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu who started the first two games yet lost his starting role to Mubarak Wakasso, who was rewarded with a start against South Africa and Guinea after his impressive 2nd half showing against the Algerians. Ask Daniel Amartey who was also rewarded with his 3rd start against South Africa and crucially ask John Boye, who took his chance when he replaced an injured Amartey. Boye not only churned out a disciplined performance, he also displayed rare predatory instincts by getting Ghana’s equalizer against the South Africans. With Amartey now fully fit, Avram would have a headache choosing between the two, who to partner Jonathan Mensah when the Black Stars take on Equatorial Guinea in the semifinal on Thursday, February 5, in Malabo.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, competition always brings out the best in individuals in any endeavor and what coach Avram Grant has instilled in this team is the believe that hard work pays. Afriyie Acquah will testify; so will Kwesi Appiah who took his chance brilliantly by putting in a great shift and scoring a goal versus Guinea. Appiah’s performance could see Jordan Ayew, who started the first three games but got stick for his languid performances, staying longer on the bench.
When Senegalese Moussa Sow scored in the dying embers to secure a 2-1 victory over Ghana in the opening game, the Black Stars may have felt pained but that last minute lapse reminded the team about the value in persistence. Ghana may have lost that game, but the Black Stars didn’t lose the lesson. In a comparatively much more difficult game against Africa’s number one team, Algeria, the Black Stars kept their head in a must win game and applied that value until the football gods smiled on them with a last minute goal to beat Algeria. It was almost an impossible goal; Captain Asamoah Gyan sprinted past Algeria’s Carl Medjani to score and claim Ghana’s first 3 points. Then along came the South Africans. Once again the Black Stars had their backs pinned firmly to a Zulu wall when South Africa took the lead against the run of play. However, the Black Stars that came out in the second half of that encounter showed signs of a team that was ready to dig deep into fire and pull the victory nut out at any cost. They were unrelenting as they bombarded their opponents with waves of attack after another until the team was rewarded with two goals that swung the game in their favour. The Black Stars had passed the test of character, a vital ingredient for any side that seeks a championship winning meal.
Okay, so I know this may be a little farfetched but what’s life without a dose of good omen. A lot of comparisons are being drawn between the run this present Black Stars team is having to when the team won in 1982. Ghana came back to draw 2-2 with hosts Libya in the opening game and defeated Tunisia 1-0 in a must win game to qualify for the semifinal against Algeria. That semifinal had drama written all over it as Ghana came back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Algeria 3-2 to qualify for final. In front of Libya’s home fans, Ghana defied the odds again to draw 1-1 in regulation and win the cup 7-6 on penalties. That was 33 odd years ago, but the “omen-ists” have drawn the comparisons and if Ghana, like Andre Ayew, leaps above today’s odds to annex “the Penta”, Ghanaians would care less about omens and happily dance to Daddy Lumba’s big hit “Y3ntie Obiaa”. That is the character this team is developing. February 8, couldn’t come quicker. Let me hear you say VIM!