It was barely 3 months ago at the World Cup in Brazil, when they took our patriotism for granted; held us to a ransom; brought us shame and simply put, broke our hearts in full glare of the international community. That memory of infighting, refusal to train unless paid a $100,000 appearance fee and poor performance on the field is still quite fresh. So fresh that, when the Black Stars got into town this week, to play their Ugandan counterparts, the Cranes in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier, their reception has been unsurprisingly muted. Like a disappointed lover, Ghanaians have been apathetic to this qualifier, and when fans got hostile at a training session in Kumasi, a city that traditionally loves the Black Stars, the message hit home; all the verbal apologies made by players and officials earlier was not going to suffice. So what a will? Which gesture could reverse the disaffection, pacify and possibly win back the heart of fans, media and other Black Stars sympathizers? The answer lies on the green grass of the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi on September 6, 2014 at 1600 GMT.
Speak of Uganda and Idi Amin, Safaris and Eco tourism springs to mind, not football, hardly. On an ordinary day, the Black Stars should routinely dispatch the Cranes, but September 6, isn’t looking remotely ordinary. If it was, the Stars wouldn’t have to worry about a team that hasn’t qualified for the AFCON in 36 years. Ironically, Uganda’s finest hour in football was at that 1978 AFCON in Ghana where the Cranes lost 2-0 in the final to the Black Stars. There has since been a couple of match ups here and there with the last 2 encounters ending 1-1 and 2-0 to Ghana in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Those previous encounters will however have little bearing on Saturday’s encounter considering the peculiar circumstances. A whole lot has changed.
Ahead of Saturday’s encounter, Uganda’s Serbian Coach, Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, has been waxing lyrical about a famous upset. Well, you can’t blame a man for aiming a punch at an opponent on the canvass, can you? Uganda would really fancy their chances, especially when the atmosphere in Kumasi on game day may not necessarily count in favour of the Black Stars. While the Cranes would hope to exploit the Stars’ low morale, they have issues within their own camp. The Cranes’ squad has been depleted by an injury and withdrawal to two of their best players. Brian Majwega, Kampala City Council FC’S pacy and tricky winger, who won three “man of the match” awards at the just ended CECAFA Kagame Cup in Rwanda, is out injured. The other absentee, Geoffrey Massa wasn’t released on time by his South African club, University of Pretoria, and has been asked to stay behind in Kampala. This leaves Brian Umony, an attacker and also of Kampala City Council FC, as the only genuine threat to the Black Stars. Uganda will be counting on Umony to reproduce the form which saw him score 6 goals at the just ended just ended CECAFA Kagame Cup. Coach Micho will likely go with the strategy of containing the Black Stars by sitting deep and hitting them on the counter. That strategy worked against Mauritania with the Cranes winning home and away to qualify for this final round. The Cranes however lost 2-0 to Niger in their last warm up game on September 2, conceding both goals within the first 25 minutes. That wasn’t really out of character; the Cranes are known poor travellers. Even without knowing, the Cranes might have just offered themselves, as perfect lambs, to be sacrificed as the Black Stars seek redemption.
Pacification may suggest procedure and intricacy, but Black Stars’ coach, Kwesi Appiah, and his technical handlers would have to do the exact opposite; simple things. Coach Appiah, has in his 2 year tenure, tried too many experiments with the Black Stars and after escaping the “firing squad” should have grown by now and learnt to do the simply things rather than trying to be too smart than everybody else. Appiah should pick an attacking minded squad filled with players blessed with guile and trickery; players who can draw the Cranes out of their defense and make room for runners to do damage to an expected tight Ugandan back line.
With that strategy in mind, Appiah is expected to start Fatau Duada, his “first love” in goal; play Harrison Afful at right full back; the in-form Baba Rahman at left back; pair Jonathan Mensah and John Boye in central defense to nullify the threat of Brian Umony. Appiah should Start Rabiu Mohammed and Kwadwo Asamoah in the heart of midfield; deploy Andre Ayew on the right wing and Christian Atsu on the left wing with Captain Asamoah Gyan in the hole behind guess who, guess who, Jordan Ayew! Yes, Jordan may have issues with his decision making but his daring nature and propensity to run directly at defenders and take them on would be needed to unlock a defense that is likely to park a Metro Mass bus. Should Appiah do this, and the Black Stars win handsomely with a swagger about them, you can be sure that, the first seed of redemption would have been sown, soon to be watered and harvested. Memories are such that, they can hold you back or inspire you; but they can be fleeting and as such, can be recreated; the Black Stars would hope for the latter, create a new memory on Saturday, it really is up to them, if they put their hearts in it and only if the fans, are willing to take them back, are you?