Victories over Egyptian topflight side, Al Ahly and Egypt’s u-20s, as well as the goalless draw with hosts, Algeria, ahead of their opening game of CHAN 2022, sold dreams to interested Ghanaians.
Prior to these high-profile games, the Black Galaxies had run riot against more than a number of Divison One sides, before securing victories over Premier League outfits; Hearts and Legon Cities. Led by Annor Walker, who had ensured Great Olympics built on their status as a Premier League cult club, the Galaxies looked more than ready for a statement return to CHAN after a six-year absence.
David Abagna, Gladson Awako, Konadu Yiadom, Dennis Korsah and World Cup ‘debutants’; Daniel Afriyie-Barnieh and Danlad Ibrahim, were the All-Stars drafted in for the Algeria hoorah.
“We are here to win the tournament, we didn’t come here to joke or look at how Algiers is. We came for one purpose, to win the cup,” Walker said before the Galaxies kicked off their campaign versus Madagascar.
2-1 was how that game ended, as the Galaxies were left face-flushed by the debutants. Probably, it would simply have been described as one of those days in football where minnows upset superiors, and Ghana’s subsequent victory over Sudan – though hard-fought and not without its fears – solidified those suggestions.
The team was on course to achieving a dream return after finishing second in Group D to secure a knockout round place. Meanwhile, the controlled optimism interested Ghanaians were showing had waned, simply because the Galaxies were a direct contrast to the team which had sold fantasies.
And for those who were still hanging on to dreams bought, perhaps it is fair to say realisation hit them in the quarter-final, where the Galaxies crumbled to a spineless defeat at the hands of Niger. One shot on target was all Ghana could muster after 90 minutes, in a game the Nigerians dominated from start to finish.
Yet still, Walker said his team ‘did not deserve to lose’.
After 270+ minutes of football, Ghana managed to win only one game – leading many to claim the Ghana Premier League’s true level was exposed. But is that truly the case?
When asked if the CHAN performance was a true representation of the Ghana Premier League, all Patrick Akoto – communications director of GHALCA, said was: “it is not”, raising defence on the back of Egypt and Nigeria, who totally missed out on the tournament.
But is this comparison realistic at all? In the last five seasons, only one Ghanaian club; Aduana Stars in 2018, has made it to the group stage of either CAF competitions. And while no Nigerian club has made it to the CAF Champions League in the period, three of their clubs have earned qualification to the group stages of the Confederation Cup.
Meanwhile, Egypt has showcased royalty in the CAF Champions League, as Al Ahly has scooped three of the last four editions, with the 2019/20 final also being an all-Egyptian affair. Their chokehold has not been restricted to the Champions League alone, as they have maintained relevance in the Confederation Cup, where three Egyptian clubs have also made it to the group stages in the same period.
So really, does Egypt and Nigeria missing out leave them on the same level of the Ghana Premier League, whose clubs have consistently suffered embarrassments continentally?
More broadly, no Ghana Premier League side made it into the International Federation of Football History and Statistics’ (IFFHS) ranking of the top 30 clubs in Africa; Egypt and Nigeria have six and one each, in the top 30.
“I can’t say if the Ghana Premier League is here or there,” African football expert, Nuhu Adams indicated. “But I can give you a list of leagues which are top; Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan and South Africa will always come on top. To some extent, Ethiopia and Tanzania can also be mentioned.”
Despite his uncertainty on how, or even where, to place the Ghana Premier League on his metrics, the IFFHS has Ghana’s topflight outside the top 10, with that of Zambia, Angola and Tanzania featuring prominently.
The Black Galaxies entered the tournament with a lot of fanfare – especially around captain, Afriyie-Barnieh. He was heralded as the team’s Messiah – the anchor on which the Galaxies were going to reintroduce themselves on the continent.
But he ghosted.
Probably, the highlight of his tournament was the red card he received versus Sudan, as he scored just a single goal in the entire tournament, via the penalty spot – like he did in the qualifiers, where two of his three were penalties.
However, Ghana scored four goals in three games at the competition – quite a decent return. Do not be misled though, as three of those four came against Sudan – a side which shipped in six goals in only two games.
“I totally disagree with people who think the performance of the CHAN team really determines how strong or weak our league is. Nobody can convince me the Madagascan league is better than the Ghana Premier League, and nobody can convince me the Ghana Premier League is better than the Sudanese league,”
“In the other way round, nobody can convince me the Nigerian league is much better than the Ghana Premier League. I am saying this based on the fact that we went to the CHAN without any plan, and wrong players in wrong positions – also with people’s individual interests above the nation’s.
“Who can convince me that Mezack Afriyie of Berekum Chelsea, who at the time of going to Algeria – had six goals in the Premier League [did not deserve to be in the team]? You put the four attackers we took together, they had managed nine goals combined. One player had six, alone. In which serious jurisdiction will any coach in his right mind drop a player with six and go with four who had a tally of nine? This is the truth we are not telling ourselves,” he ended.
So clearly, the heralding of this Galaxies team was somewhat unjustified, and as they packed their bags ahead of a return flight, Niger went all through to the semi-final before their 5-0 thumping at the hands Algeria.
Algeria subsequently lost to Senegal in the final, in a game which traveled all the way to penalties. Forward, Aymen Mahious, missed the crucial penalty for Algeria before Ahmed Kendouci saw his strike the crossbar to hand Senegal the title.
Outside top 10, but up the continental football ladder
The local Terranga Lions’ win saw them become the first West African country to lift a CHAN title. In effect, Senegal became the first African country to win the Africa Cup of Nations title, beach football crown – as well as the CHAN title – and they did all that within a year.
11 years prior though, Senegal were in what Gen Zs will describe as ‘the trenches’ – after fan riot brought to an abrupt end, an AFCON qualifier versus Cote d’Ivoire.
The Terranga Lions were at home in Dakar, and losing 6-2 on aggregate. It was that, coupled with the riots which set in motion a proper football restructuring.
“Senegal saw the need to redevelop, by getting a plan. [So] they wrote the ‘comprehensive sports and education development construction plan’. It was launched in 2015,” Collins Atta Poku explained.
“For the football technical environment, they empowered the federation and also active players; the generation foot academy and Diambars Academy setup by Patrick Vieira and started a holistic high school football development program for footballers.
“And after 8 years, you could see the benefit through the players who have gone through Generation Foot Academy, like Mane.”
There was no Mane in Algeria, but Generation Foot and Diambars were massively represented in Senegal’s CHAN squad.
Crucial to Senegal’s success was Lamine Camara, who was named the group stage’s Best Young Player before being also nominated for the player of the tournament award, at 19.
Senegal’s Premier League has failed to produce any sustained competition, with a last semi-final appearance coming in the 2004 CAF Champions League, but intentional planning has seen them reap more international successes.
Winning three continental titles, and playing in the round-of-16 of the World Cup – all in a year, are feats which do not occur in a vacuum. And while, Ghana losing to Niger and Madagascar at the Africa Nations Championship does not provide answers to the Ghana Premier League’s true level, there’s a bigger picture.
In a space of a single year, the county’s football has plummeted. The Black Stars were eliminated in the group stages of the World Cup and African Cup of Nations. Ghana’s Black Satellites – African u-20 champions failed to qualify for the 2023 edition, after losing to Burkina Faso and Nigeria in the qualifiers, before Ghana’s Black Queens also missed out on AWCON 2022. And as if all that was not enough, the Maidens are currently serving a ban for fielding overage players.
Now, usher in the story of the Galaxies, and there you will have it; the full picture.
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