Stephen Appiah, Odartey Lamptey and Ghana’s top five Olympic football stars ever recalls the glory days of Ghana’s Olympic team that brought the likes of the ‘Tornado’ and Abedi Pele’s brother Kwame Ayew to the limelight
By Fiifi Anaman

Ghana are conspicuously missing in the men’s Olympic football tournament ongoing in the 2012 London edition.

However, years gone by, the west African nation was one of the regular competitors represented by players who dazzled the world and went on to make names for themselves. Before the competition was converted into an Under-23 tournament, Ghana had made it to an impressive four consecutive tournaments - 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1974 - and after 1992, the U23 team has been there in 1996 and 2004. Ghana takes readers down memory lane with a selection of five elite players in the U23 era who took the Olympics by storm, and made a name for Ghana as a hub of skillfully gifted youth players.


That golden team of 1992 was full of so much talent that, hand picking outstanding ones is much more of a nightmare than Sophie's choice. But one player who was consistently influential throughout was then 18-year-old defensive midfielder Mohammed Gargo.

Gargo was the driving force in the instigation of attacks from defence. He was the box-to-box type of dynamo, who expertly fused being a disciplined defender with being a stylish attacker. Also as part of that U17 side that transitioned into the Olympic team, Gargo scored once in the opening game of the tournament. The Real Tamale United youth product went on to be key in that fairy tale journey to the bronze medal.

Ghana made it to Atlanta 1996, but despite a quarter-final finish, the team lacked that spark that made the class of ‘92 popular. Sydney 2000 saw Ghana fail to make it, and so by Athens 2004, Ghanaians were craving Olympic football, and they were in for a treat.

Yussif Chibsah, then a 21-year-old star midfielder, captained that team. He had also captained the Olympic team at the All African Games in Abuja to a bronze medal. His dazzling displays saw him join big boys Asante Kotoko, with whom he won silver at the 2004 Confederation's Cup. The highly educated footballer was immense in Athens , as well as putting in impressive midfield displays in a journey that ended in an unfortunate narrow group stage exit.
3. KWAME AYEW - 1992

The emergence of Ghana as a dominant youth football force in the world in the early 90s meant the west African country made it to the 1992 summer Olympics on a high. All hopes were on Kwame Ayew, who was 19 years then.

Ayew, a brother of the legendary Abedi (Ayew) Pele, was the marksman for the team in Barcelona ‘92. By the end of the group stages, he had scored three goals. His breath-taking efforts in front of goal landed him a further three-goal tally, making six strikes overall. This handed him the coveted top scorer's award and a bronze medal for Ghana - the first time for an African nation. Ghana had made a resounding impact in Barcelona, and the uncle of Andre and Jordan Ayew was at the forefront.

Going into the tournament, Lamptey was Ghana's most highly rated player, even being touted as 'the next Pele' by Pele himself. The then 17-year-old had been the Golden Ball winner at the Under-17 World Cup a year earlier, and was leading the U23s in Barcelona. Lamptey led the team's creative attack, taking on the playmaker's role, creating scoring opportunities for Ayew.

He shone in the tournament, uncharacteristically as a creative engine, rather than a goal scorer. He picked up from where he left off in 1991, putting in outstanding displays that carried Ghana all the way through to the semi-final, where a devastating Spanish side ended a priceless dream of an Olympic final berth.

That 2004 Olympic team was significant because it had a core group of players that were to qualify Ghana for its first ever Fifa World Cup. Stephen Appiah, who captained the Black Stars to a historic global showpiece qualification to Germany 2006, was part of that team. Appiah by then, was a household name, having progressed from the U17 through to the U20 at various World Championships.

He was one of three 'over-aged players' in the squad. Appiah had carved a niche for himself as a stylish and composed attacking midfielder, who had a deadly eye for goal as well. He scored twice in that short stint in Athens, shining in all three group games, running the attacking department in spectacular fashion.