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World Cup hope and disappointment: Ghana left wondering what might have been

19:00 GMT 06/12/2022
andre ayew of Ghana
The Black Stars had low pre-World Cup expectations but would rue missed opportunities that cost them a place in the knockout stage

The Round of 16 concludes on Tuesday with Morocco as the last African representative at the World Cup in Qatar.

Senegal were the other side that made it out of the group phase but their journey ended with a 3-0 defeat by England on Tuesday.

Fine margins undermined Tunisia, Cameroon and Ghana, with all three possibly missing opportunities to have advanced had results gone their way in the final round of games. Of those three, perhaps the Black Stars missed a huge chance to participate in the knockout stage.

That claim was not foreseen owing to the absence of expectations before a ball was kicked. The Black Stars were not only the lowest-ranked team at the finals but were in a group comprising Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay.

In truth, that was not as nightmarish a draw as some observers assumed. It was an analysis that was mostly down to the perceived weakness of Ghana in multiple areas.

GOAL especially highlighted the West African nation’s goalscoring bugbear, with Inaki Williams, Andre and Jordan Ayew not pulling up trees in front of goal, while the supporting cast was not significantly superior.

Mohammed Kudus was predicted to shine at the finals, and the Ajax man was the go-to guy in Qatar. When he fired, Ghana looked capable of stunning Portugal, and they picked up maximum points in the 3-2 victory over South Korea.

When he did not pull a rabbit out of the hat or show the decisive execution to silence Uruguay, albeit after winning the penalty, they failed to score and exited the competition, denying Kudus his Neymar wish.

Last week’s 2-0 by Uruguay rankled because it could have been so different had Andre Ayew scored from 12 yards. The sole survivor of the Black Stars’ 2010 squad should have understood the assignment. Instead, his effort lacked any conviction to beat Sergio Rochet.

Ten minutes after Ayew’s miss, Uruguay had found themselves 2-0 up, leaving Ghana with an uphill task with about an hour of action remaining. The West African side somehow found themselves chasing their tail in a game they went into as favourites to secure second spot against opponents that had not scored in the competition before Giorgian De Arrascaeta’s brace.

An inclination to concede goals in quick succession was also their undoing. They let in two goals in their opening game against Portugal inside three minutes, lost a two-goal advantage against South Korea in 168 seconds and conceded twice to Uruguay in under five minutes.

Kudus’ second World Cup goal meant they were not punished in their second Group H game, sealing a 3-2 success but they could not mount a turnaround against the Selecao or the South American nation.

Perhaps, they could have played 3-3 in that Portugal encounter had they taken advantage of Diego Costa’s concentration loss at the death. Inaki Williams had stayed in the goalkeeper’s rear and looked to pounce on any gaffe from the shot-stopper, who may have been unaware of his presence.

Indeed, the custodian dropped the ball — literally and figuratively — and the Athletic Club striker regained possession…only to slip at the crucial moment, and the opportunity was lost.

They left Stadium 974 without a point, but they could have had one. They had a penalty to open the scoring against a side they loathed in the final game but missed.

Fine margins and all that, but Ghana left Qatar probably feeling they had missed a huge opportunity to play in the round of 16 after a 12-year absence.

Otto Addo has since resigned, leaving the new man to pick up where the former Borussia Dortmund player left off. But it was not meant to end this way.

A day that began with Ghana favourites for a second-place finish saw them end fourth of their section.

A competition that started with minimal hope could have materialised into something different, although facing Brazil might have been a bridge too far, as South Korea realised on Monday night.

That said, there is a lingering feeling of what might have been, especially against opponents they relished facing again after September’s 3-0 thrashing. Unfortunately, we will never know.