The Ghanaian football scene has seen much business in 2013, both on - and off-the-pitch. Goal flips through the calendar for the concluding year and brings you the major happenings, among them the great and the not-so-good.
Ghana staged its latest attempt to break a barren spell at the Africa Cup of Nations that had spanned some three decades, starting the campaign at South Africa 2013 off with a 2-2 draw against DR Congo but eventually topping Group B by winning its two remaining group games.
Ghana's Afcon adventures finished in gross disappointment, however, with losses to Burkina Faso and Mali in the semi-final and third-place fixtures respectively ensuring the Black Stars ended up with nothing for a second consecutive Nations Cup tournament. Not too surprisingly, some Ghanaians called for coach Kwesi Appiah's exit afterwards. Meanwhile, the Ayew siblings, Andre and Jordan, dropped from Ghana's squad for the tournament under a blanket of controversy, retired from international duty aged 23 and 21 respectively.
Ghana's FA opted to stick with coach Appiah, though, and the national side won its next competitive international outing -at home against Sudan in the Brazil 2014 qualifying series- by a thumping 4-0 scoreline.
Asante Kotoko were eliminated from the 2013 Caf Champions League's first round of qualifiers (after successfully emerging from an easy tie in the preliminaries against Equatorial Guinea's Sony Ela Nguema) on away goals, having scored nine times and conceded just once in the process. That solitary concession, which came in a 1-1 draw in Kumasi against JSM Bejaia, proved the Porcupine Warriors' undoing. Earliest signs of tensions between the club's fans and the K.K Sarpong-led management that would soon escalate began to show after that failure.
Matchweek 24 of Ghana Premier League season 2012-13 saw Kotoko and rivals Hearts of Oak play in front of what was as close to a sell-out crowd as had been witnessed in Accra in a considerable while, and what a game it proved! A 1-1 draw provided many an exciting moment for fans, yet the violent fanaticism of some spectators showed just how little Ghanaians had learnt from the infamous May 9 tragedy whose 12th anniversary was celebrated just four days later.
The erstwhile GPL season, the last to be sponsored by telecommunications giant Glo, came to a conclusion, with Kotoko successfully defending the title it won from the preceding season. Real Tamale United ended the term at the foot of the table with a negative goal difference of 49, relegated, and having endured a campaign that saw the club pick not a single win in 30 fixtures, with all of their six points being earned via draws. In the same month, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan scored twice in a World Cup qualifying game away to Sudan that appeared to propel him past Abedi Pele on 34 goals as Ghana's all-time topscorer until stories surfaced that another great Ghanaian striker from a much earlier generation actually laid claim to that honour. June had more drama in store, though. Ghanaian leader John Mahama invited the 'exiled' Ayews to the seat of the presidency where he apparently managed to coax them out of retirement. The brothers announced their re-availability for national selection shortly thereafter. At least in word, they did. More on that later.
Medeama lost 2-0 to Hearts of Oak on July 1 in the final of the four-team President's Cup mini-tournament, but went on to deny Kotoko of a league and cup double just 13 days later, triumphing in the clubs' MTN FA Cup clash. That loss fuelled the fire ignited by Kotoko's Champions League exit referred to earlier, and executive chairman Sarpong was practically forced to step down eventually, just when he and his board seemed ready to wield the axe over trainer Didi Dramani. Just about the same time, Ghana's Black Satellites, coached by Sellas 'the polo-shirted One' Tetteh, returned from a fairly successive campaign at the U20 World Cup in Turkey, where they achieved a respectable third-place finish. Individually, Ebenezer Assifuah and Clifford Aboagye stood out for special honours during that campaign, claiming the Golden Boot and Bronze Ball prizes respectively at the tournament's end.
Apparently, the Ayews' vocal declaration of a renewal of allegiance to the Black Stars' cause wasn't deemed appropriate enough by the national team authorities. To back their words, they were required to write formal letters to that effect. After what seemed a long stand-off, the Olympique Marseille duo acquiesced, together with Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari who were also expected to do same. Muntari and the younger Ayew aside, the remainder -along with a returning Michael Essien- were included in Ghana's squad for the Brazil 2014 home meeting against Zambia in September.
September did come, and the Chipolopolo -who had established themselves as something of a bogey side for the Black Stars- were beaten 2-1 in Kumasi. With that win, Kwesi Appiah's charges sealed top spot in Group D, and thus awaited Caf's draw to find out which team would present itself as the final hurdle on the Stars' path to Brazil 2014. Still in September, South Africa-based Pay TV channel Supersport was confirmed official broadcaster for the Ghana Premier League and MTN FA Cup for a three-year period.
The Caf draw -mentioned above- pitted Ghana in a two-legged tie against seven-time African champions Egypt, the first of which was scheduled to be honoured in Kumasi on October 15. What had been hyped to be a tight game -played in front of a capacity crowd- proved an absolute embarrassment for the Pharaohs, though, as they suffered a ruthless 6-1 thrashing. In unrelated news, Fifa president Sepp Blatter had written to the Ghana Football Association earlier in the month to commiserate with Ghanaians on the demise of former national stars Emmanuel Quarshie and George Alhassan, both of whom proved crucial roles in Ghana's last continental triumph, achieved in Libya in 1982.
On November 19, Egypt had a chance, albeit an awfully slim one, to overturn the five-goal deficit incurred in the first leg against Ghana. The game was played in Cairo, the troubled Egyptian capital, despite genuine security concerns raised by the visitors. Egypt stormed into an early lead through Amr Zaki, and Ghana, sporting an unfamiliar combination of strips, held on to lose by a narrow 2-1 scoreline in the end, advancing to the World Cup finals on a 7-3 aggregate. There was even greater activity in the year's penultimate month, with Ghana successfully hosting and winning the Wafu Cup, Asamoah Gyan and Kwadwo Asamoah being included among the initial 25 shortlisted nominees for the Caf African Player of The Year award, and Hearts sacking coach David Duncan to the ire of many of the club's fans.
The World Cup Final Draw, conducted on December 6 in Bahia, Brazil, saw the Black Stars drawn with heavyweights Germany and Portugal, along with the USA, in Group G. Perhaps as a perfect climax to the year, Juventus midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah was crowned winner of the maiden Goal Ghana Player of The Year award, beating the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Gideon Baah, Andre Ayew and Adam Kwarasey -in that order- to pick the gong.
It has indeed been an action-packed year that we have just had. May the next -2014- bring us all as much delightful activity!