What a difference a week can make. Just ask Senegal and Ghana, whose footballing fortunes have reversed dramatically within the space of seven days.
The two West African heavyweights were the last two teams standing at the regional Wafu Cup of Nations in October, contesting last Sunday’s final which was won by the Teranga Lions—on penalties—in front of their own fans.
A week on, and the duo are facing up to the misery of missing out on the 2020 African Nations Championship—the biennial tournament for home-based players—after falling in the weekend’s final round of qualifiers.
Ghana trailed Burkina Faso 1-0 after being defeated in Kumasi in the first leg, and were unable to turn things around in Ouagadougou, with the Stallions holding on for a 0-0 draw which was enough to take them to Cameroon.
It’s a miserable scenario for Maxwell Konadu’s side, who had so overachieved to reach the final of the Wafu Cup considering the domestic suspension of the Ghana Premier League since June 2018.
Initially, signs hadn’t been good for Ghana at the tournament, as they laboured to a 1-0 victory over The Gambia in their opener—with the Scorpions spurning a late penalty—but they improved as the competition wore on, with the likes of Joseph Esso, Augustine Okrah and Shafiu Mumuni finding a fine rhythm as a front three.
The turning point for Ghana was their victory over old foe Burkina Faso, a penalty shootout win that could have given Konadu’s side a psychological edge heading into the second leg of their Chan showdown.
Ghana fell behind to Mody Cisse’s opener, but after he was removed through injury, the Stallions lost their impetus, and the Stars equalised through Mumuni before winning on penalties, with goalkeeper Eric Ofori Antwi the hero.
The Stars’ performance against the Ivory Coast in the semi-finals was refreshing and vibrant, and they were a match for Senegal in the final—despite the Lions’ home advantage—before succumbing on penalties.
In light of this showing in Thies, Ghana will surely have been confident that they could have turned things around against Burkina Faso, however, an pre-match injury to James Akaminko—so influential during the Wafu Cup—denied the Stars the services of one of their star players.
In this context, failure to down a talented, well-drilled and underrated Burkina Faso side is nothing for Ghana to be ashamed of, even though failure to progress is certainly hard to take.
Chan qualification would have been well deserved for Konadu and his technical staff after the work they’ve done with this group of players, particularly in light of domestic football’s hiatus, and considering some of the gambles the coach has taken, many of which have paid off, he deserves credit for restoring a measure of pride in the nation's football.
First-choice Felix Annan returned to the fold for the Chan qualifier—and made some excellent stops—but Konadu was rewarded for the bold move to retain faith in Ofori Antwi during the Afcon, while the call to hand a key role to the inventive Okrah also bore fruit.
Asante Kotoko’s failure to progress to the Caf Champions League group stage demonstrated how the cream of the GPL need more exposure to broader African competition to improve, and while the Stars have missed out on the invaluable platform of the Chan, Konadu can look to the upcoming U-23 Afcon as an ideal opportunity to blood some of the nation’s youthful prospects.
Senegal’s failure to build on their Wafu Cup success with Chan qualification is even more disappointing, and less excusable, even though they were up against a fine Guinea side who entered the second leg of the qualifier on the back of winning the Plate competition in Thies.
The Syli Nationale, an organised and stable unit under the tutelage of Lappe Bangoura, were one of the Wafu Cup’s most impressive sides; they attacked with poise, they boast adroit technicians in Michel Millimono and Daouda Camara, while their defence is athletic and offers presence.
In midfield general Jean Mouste, they also boast one of the finest players currently plying his trade in West Africa, but beyond him, they can’t match the class of this Senegal side.
With many of the players forged in the Generation Foot and Diambars academies, or emanating from a fine Diaraf side, the Teranga Lions are a well-balanced eye-catching outfit who fully deserved their tag of Wafu champions.
With the exceptions of Philippe Paulin Keny and Moustapha Name—both returned to their club sides in France—the team that took to the field to face Guinea in Conakry boasted all of the key actors of the Wafu success.
Dazzling wideman Ousseynou Niang and Ibrahima Drame—a duo who are destined for greater things—started either side of target man Youssouph Badji, while Assane Mbodj linked midfield and attack.
The powerful Elhadji Madicke Kane marshalled the heart of the park, with Khadim Diaw and Elhadji Moutarou Balde offering dynamism in wide areas.
Apart from perhaps Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there isn’t a stronger team that could be drawn from a domestic top flight in African football today, yet the Lions were unable to get the job done against Guinea.
Mamadouba Bangoura struck the only goal of the second leg in the 47th minute, and the fortune that Senegal had enjoyed in their shootout victory over Ghana in the Wafu final deserted them, as they succumbed 3-1 on penalties.
“Disappointed and devastated,” Diaw wrote on Facebook. “Our sincere apologies for these missed penalties.
“Thank you for having believed in us.”
And so, seven days on from the finest hour for many of these players, they were left to rue failure to secure a ticket to the Chan, where they certainly had the potential to enjoy a long run in the competition.
While Ghana have the chance to make amends at the U-23 Afcon, Senegal do not, and a valuable opportunity has been missed for this talented, young collective to test themselves against some of the continent’s strongest teams.
Many of this group will go on to bigger leagues, bigger clubs…and European football, but they would have been richer for Chan participation.
A week can make all the difference in football, in life, and Ghana and Senegal have learned the hard way…