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Africa Cup of Nations

Small-time Ghana only have themselves to blame

13:34 GMT+3 19/01/2022
Jordan and Andre Ayew of Ghana
The Black Stars’ Africa Cup of Nations is over after three matches, but don’t let them point the finger of blame elsewhere

Ghana’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign is over after just three matches, with each one of their three fixtures plumbed new depths of disappointment for the Black Stars’ expectant supporters.

Predictably, inevitably, before this tournament, the talk of ending 40 years of hurt rattled heavily around Ghanaian football circles.

Optimism can be irrepressible, of course, for fans of one of football’s fallen heavyweights, but the symbolism of the anniversary—exactly four decades since the West Africans’ latest triumph—and the recent improvement under the returning Milovan Rajevac had offered hope of a strong campaign.

The squad boasted reason for optimism as well.

After struggling for identity under CK Akonnor, the Black Stars had steadily begun to look like they had solidity in defence, control in midfield—the partnership of Thomas Partey and Iddrisu Baba has the potential to be among the continent’s best—as well as a fine blend of youth and experience.

Mohammed Kudus was a no show for the Nations Cup—the start at least—but in Kamaldeen Sulemana and Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, there were glimpses of the future, coupled with the experienced heads of Andre and Jordan Ayew.

Then things utterly unravelled.

Ghana were in the game until late on against Morocco, although while the two teams were tied on the scoresheet until Sofiane Boufal broke the deadlock seven minutes from time, the Atlas Lions were comfortably the superior side.

As well as registering over 60 percent of the possession, they also managed 12 shots to Ghana’s five.

The warning signs were there, yet still—speaking to GOAL after the match—Andre Ayew insisted the Black Stars would ‘100 percent’ qualify for the Last 16.

Evidence of the arrogance that would eventually undermine his and Ghana’s campaign?

Against Gabon, the Stars took the lead—thanks to a magnificent Dede effort from distance—yet they were unable to truly bury their lesser opponents, who had to execute the match without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mario Lemina and a host of other coronavirus absentees.

The events of the conclusion of that game, as Jim Allevinah struck a late equaliser after Gabon had played on despite Ghana putting the ball out of touch for a player to receive treatment, as Ayew’s confrontational approach towards Panthers coach Patrice Neveu, as Benjamin Tetteh aimed a punch at Aaron Boupendza, do not need to be revisited in-depth here.

Needless to say, it was a disgraceful series of events for the Black Stars.

Gabon playing on came in the context of persistent Ghana time-wasting, while Tetteh lashing out came in the aftermath of Dede raising the tempo—and setting the tone for his team—by his petulant acts after the Panthers had snatched a late equaliser.

“It’s small on their part, it show they’re a small team,” Dede said after the match, referring to Gabon’s decision to play on when faced with what they adjudged to be more Ghana time wasting. “It’s small of them and I’m disappointed in them.”

Gabon are not obliged to halt play every time Ghana decide to kill a little more time. They are not the arbiters of what is fair or not in football. The referee has the whistle, and can blow if injustices are evident in football.

He didn’t, the teams played on, Gabon scored. Get over it.

Ayew’s reaction, however, smacked of petulance, arrogance, entitlement and an absolute lack of class. Where was the leadership? Where was the recognition here that he had the opportunity to set the tone for his team, and keep them focused on the state of play: a win against Comoros would take them through.

This feat should absolutely not be beyond Ghana, this Black Stars team.

However, the 3-2 defeat by the Comoros islands on Tuesday—the country’s first ever victory at a major tournament—will go down as probably the West Africans’ worst ever moment at a Nations Cup.

This is a team ranked 133rd in the world, playing at their first ever Nations Cup, who only became a Fifa member in 2005…23 years after Ghana’s most recent Afcon triumph.

The country have a population of less than a million—the smallest country ever to feature in a Nations Cup—and only picked up their first points in an African qualifying campaign as recently as 2011.

They withdrew from the qualifying campaign for the 2013 Nations Cup due to financial problems in the federation, and had to wait until 2016—and a win against Botswana—for their first triumph in a continental qualifying programme.

Only six years later, and they’ve defeated the Black Stars—four-time champions—at the Afcon proper.

Comoros are ‘small’ by any measure; small country, small team, small footballing history, but they remain ‘alive’ in the competition, and in contention for the Last 16, while Ghana must pack their bags and return to Accra.

What the Comoros islands have demonstrated, however, is discipline, unity, heart and the spirit of self-sacrifice—inculcated by coach Amir Abdou—that has helped them take three points from an absolute Group of Death.

Regardless of what Ayew says, regardless of who he blames or points the finger at next, you suspect that wily old Milovan Rajevac—assuming he remains in the post—will take a look at some of those Comorian values, and try and instil them in these fading Black Stars.

‘Small’ Ghana are homing home, while the Comorian giants may well have a longer race to run in this Nations Cup.