By George-Patrick Bediaku
Ghana have realized their dream of making a third successive appearance at the Fifa World Cup, to be held this time in Brazil, the home of beautiful soccer.
THE WINNING TEAM | Ghana have made it a third consecutive time at the World Cup
Indeed, many Ghanaians salivate at the mere prospect of visiting the land of the wildest carnivals, beautiful beaches, and stunning women.
How did it all happen, though? Let’s take a trip through the qualification stages and the various twists in the tale.
The Journey so far
By virtue of Ghana’s high ratings in the July 2011 Fifa Ranking, the country did not take part in the first round of Caf 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification. That stage consisted of 12 home-and-away ties, and featured the 24 lowest ranked teams in Africa. The winners from this series proceeded to the second round.
And that was where it all began for Ghana. The aforementioned ranking was used to seed the teams and Ghana was duly placed in Pot 1 alongside other top teams like Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Planted in Group D, the Black Stars had to contend with then defending Nations Cup champions Zambia, Sudan and Lesotho. Ghana’s first points were picked up at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, in a game that would infamously be remembered for the malfunctioning of floodlights at the venue. On said occasion, Ghana hosted Lesotho -on June 1, 2012- and won7-0.
Meanwhile, Sudan had recorded a 2-0 win at home over champions Zambia in Omdurman. As the story unravels, it would become apparent why this seemingly unrelated result is indeed worth a mention.
Ghana’s next game, away to Zambia, was played a week later at the newly-opened 40,000-capacity Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola. Ghana lost the game by a lone Christopher Katongo goal.
At this point, Ghana topped the group by virtue of a better goal difference despite having the same number of points (three) as Zambia. In October, though, things turned around.
After registering a protest, Zambia were awarded a 3-0 win by Fifa as a result of Sudan fielding the ineligible player Saif Ali in securing the 2-0 triumph mentioned earlier. This dealt a heavy blow to Ghana’s chances.
Fast-forward to March 2013, and after a disappointing showing at that year's Afcon in South Africa, Ghana had a plan going forward: to win all remaining four group games. Ghana had successive home and away legs against Sudan and another fixture to honour in Lesotho, before wrapping the campaign up at home versus Zambia.
Sudan were hosted at what is now the Stars' favourite hunting grounds, Kumasi's Baba Yara Stadium, and, as expected, the soccer-crazy fans in that city packed the venue to the rafters. That, coupled with the fact that the fans are closer to the field in Kumasi than at the Accra Sports Stadium, meant that an intimidating atmosphere would be created and would favour Ghana.
On March 24, Ghana hosted and convincingly beat Sudan 4-0. Striker Asamoah Gyan, who had relinquished his captain band to the returning Sulley Muntari on the day, was on the scoresheet, with rising stars Mubarak Wakaso, Abdul Majeed Waris also getting goals. For good measure, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu grabbed one, too.
The first twist
What is necessary to state at this stage is that Lesotho had done Ghana a huge favour by playing out a 1-1 draw with Zambia. Even so, Ghana still trailed the Chipolopolo with six points to seven. On June 8, Ghana recorded a 3-1 away win over Sudan. Gyan’s brace in that match helped him equal and surpass the national team's then topscorer Abedi 'Pele' Ayew's record of 33 goals. Sulley Muntari was also on target on the day.
Zambia’s 4-0 thrashing of Lesotho, however, meant Ghana was far from comfortable. The Zambians still led the group with 10 points, followed by Ghana on nine.
The second twist
The penultimate game of the second round was played on Sunday June 16, at the Setsoto Stadium in Maseru, Lesotho. Ghana won that game by two unanswered goals, with Rennes defender John Boye opening the scoring and Gyan extending his record to 35 goals. But Ghana was most overjoyed because of what happened in the group's other game the day before, when Sudan held home side Zambia to a 1-1 score. This meant that Ghana leap-frogged Zambia in the group standings. Ghana now topped Group D with 12 points and a positive goal difference of 14, ahead of Zambia who boasted a point and six goals less.
End of Part I. We will bring you Part II, featuring ‘The saga of The Returnees’ and the impressive statistics Kwesi Appiah stacked up.