There was a time when Ghana was referred to as a kingpin in African football. Four Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) titles in the space of 19 years (1963-1982) is a remarkable achievement considering the fact that the tournament was played every two years.
To put things in perspective, the Black Stars won four titles in nine AFCON tournaments.
However, what followed was a period of “almost-achieving”. Making eight semi-finals and losing three finals has left Ghana staring down the barrel of the African football giants label.
Two of the three finals lost by Ghana since 1982 were as a result of penalties. Falling to a penalty shootout is not a problem suffered by the Black Stars in isolation, the other subsets of the Ghana national team such as the Black Meteors, Black Maidens and Local Black Stars have all undergone similar fortunes from 12 yards.
In the space of three days, the Black Meteors have stabbed the hearts of Ghanaians twice with the same knife (penalty-shootout). The general feeling around the nation was that of disappointment coupled with familiarity because of the number of times Ghanaian teams have fallen prey in shootouts.
The Penalty Problem
Narrowing the sample period to the past 10 years, the Black Meteors, Black Maidens, Black Stars and Black Stars B have played a combined 63 penalties spreading across 11 different penalty shootouts (AFCON, U-23 AFCON, WAFU, U17 Women’s World Cup).
Out of the these shootouts contested, only two were won, both by the Local Black Stars – against Nigeria in 2014 and Burkina Faso in 2019, both CHAN tournaments. Nine penalty shootout defeats spell out the degree of the penalty problem in Ghana.
With the Black Stars and Black Stars B losing finals in the 2015 AFCON and WAFU 2019 on penalties respectively, it is fair to say that Ghana’s trophy cabinet will be at least two trophies heavier if the shootout issues were addresed.
In a different context, a conversion rate of 65.1% would not look so bad. However, with reference to penalties, the margins are usually microscopically tight. Therefore, missing 22 penalties out of an attempted 63 shows a lack of conviction.
The 22 Penalties Missed
Seven out of the 22 penalties missed have been off-target but that suggests the attempt to be more precise. The best penalties are usually placed in the corners because it is difficult for goalkeepers to react quickly.
The off-target attempts were the closest to the corners in terms of positioning. The remaining 15 penalties were placed in a rather more comfortable zone for the keeper because they were relatively central. The more worrying observation is the height of these central penalties.
Choosing to go mid-range makes it easier for goalkeepers because they do not have to outstretch themselves to make contact. Aiming for the roof, is perhaps the best option when going central but that comes with some form of composure which Edward Sarpong did not have against South Africa.
Ghana’s Penalty Shootout Outcomes (2010-2019)
2010 World Cup Quarterfinal – Ghana 1-1 Uruguay (2-4 penalties)
2013 AFCON Semifinal – Ghana 1-1 Burkina Faso (2-3 penalties)
2014 CHAN Semifinal – Ghana 0-0 Nigeria (4-1penalties)
2014 CHAN Semifinal – Ghana 0-0 Libya (3-4 penalties)
2015 AFCON Final – Ghana 0-0 Ivory Coast (8-9 penalties)
2018 U17 Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal – Ghana 2-2 Mexico (2-4 penalties)
2019 AFCON Round of 16 – Ghana 1-1 Tunisia (4-5 penalties)
2019 WAFU Quarterfinals – Ghana 1-1 Burkina Faso (5-4 penalties)
2019 WAFU Final – Ghana 1-1 Senegal (1-3 penalties)
2019 U23 AFCON Semifinal – Ghana 2-2 Ivory Coast (2-3 penalties)
2019 U23 AFCON 3rd & 4th place – Ghana 2-2 South Africa (5-6 penalties)
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