The Shame of AFCON 2015

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (February 6th 2015)

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Redemption

Welcome to the final feast of AFCON 2015.

The two teams left standing on the final day are probably the two best teams of the entire championship. The emergence of Ghana and la Côte d’Ivoire at the finish line is confirmation once again that West Africa remains the most dominant region in African football. It is the two teams that have put up the most consistent series of matches, improving technically and playing better with each successive match.

It is understandably so because the teams are made up entirely of players from various leagues in Europe who did not have enough time before the championship to become formidable teams and have been using the matches of the tournament to build their team and be better organised. Like a fine wine they have grown better with time.

A closer look at both teams, to hazard a guess where the pendulum of victory would swing, reveals a deep rooted rivalry that will be on full display when they line up on Sunday to decide Africa’s champions for the next two years.

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Head-Scratching

I was asked on television the other night to name who, in my opinion, has been the best player of AFCON 2015. I ended up scratching my head in an endless attempt to recall the one moment of magic throughout the championship up to the finals that could provide me with the answer. I came up blank. I have only faint and blurred images in my memory bank.

The entire championship as a whole may have been exciting – it was in its way – but it has lacked spark and quality. Even Yaya Touré, the player that had just been crowned Africa’s best has been but a shadow of himself.

Asamoah Gyan, the other great Ghanaian superstar, has been slowed slightly by age as well as illness and an injury that have minimized his contributions even though his goal against Algeria in the dying minutes of regulation time gave Ghana the essential victory that took the team from the brink of exiting the championship to the leadership of the group. That goal marks Ghana’s turning point in the championship.

The Final Curtain Call

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There is now the final act. One great performance in the final of AFCON 2015 can provide the perfect setting and opportunity to finish as the championship’s best player. So far, in this most average of African championships, no one truly deserves it. But which of these teams do I think would win the championship?

Ghana have won it four times. But the last time was in 1982, eons ago. During the 33 years of their ‘drought’ they have met Côte d’Ivoire three times during the championship, but only once in the final. Ghana lost that match via penalties. That was at Senegal ’92.

Côte d’Ivoire have not scored a single goal in regulation time in the three finals they got to. Even when they won the championship for the first and only time in 1992 they did so through penalties!They never seem to have the nerve to finish clinically and win in regulation time! So, where does all that leave us?

My head tells me Côte d’Ivoire will win through penalties again. My heart tells me the Black Stars would win in regulation time. So what does my unreliable crystal ball say? Give it to the Star that is Black. Whichever, way, enjoy the final feast, for it will be a far cry from the shame that is Equatorial Guinea.

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The Shame of Equatorial Guinea

The Confederation of African Football, CAF, should never have awarded the African Cup of Nations championship, AFCON 2015, to Equatorial Guinea. Why they did should actually be the subject of a future inquiry. Too many things were not correct with that decision. The events of the semi-final match against Ghana now provide ammunition for those who thought it was a big mistake by CAF. On that dark long night the chickens finally came home to roost!

The Equatorial Guineans met their Waterloo on the football field as the Black Stars tore them to shreds with a very easy and humiliating 3-0 trouncing that could easily have been more. Without the 12th player to help them which happened during the quarter-final match against Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea were left exposed by the superior, more mature and better organised display put up by the very experienced Ghanaians.

Equatorial Guinea actually started the match spiritedly, matching the Ghanaians tackle for tackle, ball for ball. But as the game wore it soon became apparent something was wrong. Lacking the skill, organisation and ability of the Ghanaians, the hosts had few options, but bluster.

The strategy they adopted was to try to physically intimidate the opposition to submission, but the gamesmanship was found wanting. By the end of the first half their game had deteriorated into a brawl. It was not surprising that at the end of that half they had not only conceded two goals but had also failed to create even a single goal-scoring opportunity.

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Disgraceful

The limitations of their team, compared to the football aristocrats of Ghana were all too apparent – and quickly. Angry spectators, almost 15,000-strong, infuriated that the referee was not succumbing to intimidation and the emotional blackmail of the home team, turned their anger on the game. They knew that they were being beaten by the far better team., so they tried to get the match abandoned through shameful thuggery, thinking that it would be replayed.

They threw missiles of all sorts onto the field of play, and the match had to be temporarily suspended for over 30 minutes. Unlike the peaceful atmosphere that had pervaded the entire championship from the start until the controversial quarter-final match that was gifted to Equatorial Guinea by an obviously bad or compromised Mauritian referee, Rajindraparsad Seechurn, the semi-final was appalling.

After achieving their best result through questionable behaviour, which cowed the referee into shameful under-performance once, Equatorial Guinea tried it again, but the Gabonese referee Eric Otogo-Castane was no Seechurn and the Black Stars reacted differently to the Carthage Eagles. The semi-final match was a very bad advertisement for African football with the entire world watching the ugly incidents.

I can imagine what the CAF President Issa Hayatou and his Executive Committee members must have gone through in that half hour of absolute shame. They must have rued the day they gave Equatorial Guinea the nod to host AFCON 2015.

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Africa’s Finest

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 7th 2015)

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Prestigious African Footballers

Football without super stars is like tea without sugar. We are in the season of celebrating the super-stars of African football – the players whose light has shone brightest in the football constellation. Tomorrow the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will elect its winner of the prestigious African Footballer of the Year Award for 2014.

The event, which takes place in Lagos has become very significant for the players because it shoots their status and profile sky high onto a new pedestal of respect and prosperity. It can earn players moves to glamorous clubs, or in some cases boost their wages and prestige. It also raises the profile of African football outside the continent.

Surprises

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In the final list of five players for the 2014 award there are a few surprise inclusions. The first is Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama. It is not common to find goalkeepers listed for the African award. If it were not so, there is no reason why Vincent should not have been listed, or have even won the award, in 2013.

His stellar performances in the French league for Lille FC, and for Nigeria during the African Cup of Nations, leading the Super-Eagles to only their third triumph has earned him more than enough credit to merit an indisputable place amongst Africa’s best players. But goalkeepers tend to be overlooked. Just look at what happened last year.

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The belated observation made by a few of us – myself included – who commented on his omission last year may have precipitated the present attention on him (and possibly on other goalkeepers in the next few years).

Keepers

Goalkeepers occasionally used to be nominated, but their contributions have been neglected in awards. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since the last one was even nominated, let alone won. Before Enyeama’s recent nomination the last goalkeeper to be considered – and he did not win it – was Joseph Antoine Bell of Cameroon in 1989.

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And before Bell, the last keeper to be nominated was Zaki Badou – recognised by CAF in 2006 as one of Africaʼs best 200 players over the previous half century. Badou is the current manager of Morocco. It is his second spell in charge of the Atlas Lions. Sadly Moroccoʼs decision to refuse to host the African Cup of Nations has denied him the opportunity to shine.

Badou is one of Moroccoʼs greatest ever players. In 1986 Badou won the African Footballer of the Year Award, then by France Football Magazine. CAF organised its own award in 1992, which competed with the France Football Magazine award for two years (from 1994 onwards only CAFʼs award remains).

Badou played in Spain for RCD Mallorca and proved that his 1986 award was no fluke. He moved to Spain that year. Badou won the prestigious Zamora Trophy – the award for the La Liga goalkeeper with the lowest goals to games played ratio – for the 1988-89 season. As a manger he had success with his former club Wydad in Morocco and took the Atlas Lions to the final of the 2004 African Cup of Nations. Badou has pedigree.

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Shamefully Overlooked

However Cameroonian great Thomas Nkono showed that goalkeepers who excel can be rewarded. Nkono won the African Footballer of the Year Award twice – 1979 and 1981. Sandwiched between his triumphs was my best year in this competition. I came second to his Canon Yaoundé team-mate and strangely unheralded (outside of Africa) Cameroonian great Jean Manga-Onguéné.

I canʼt complain as he led his team to the Cameroonian League title and African Champions Cup. Badou was not the first Moroccan keeper to win the award. Chabab Mohammédiaʼs Ahmed Faras beat African legend Roger Milla into second place in 1975.

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The good thing is that Vincent Enyeama’s nomination has reawakened interest in the performances of African goalkeepers, which has often been overlooked in favour of strikers or midfielders.

That may also explain why all of the players that have won the award since its inception (except for the goalkeepers listed earlier) have been goal scorers (strikers and midfielders). No defender has ever won the award despite the whole army of absolutely brilliant defenders in the continent’s history. If Enyeama wins it could therefore produce a change of attitude and appreciation of the finest exponents of other positions.

Surprise

Enyeama is not the only surprise on this yearʼs list. Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been one of the most underrated African players in Europe. He has been around the football circuit in Europe ‘quietly’ plying his trade and honing his goal-scoring skills and instincts. He is the son of another neglected African great. Pierre Aubameyang played for Gabon 80 times. Unlike his son he was a defender. He was the first Gabonese footballer to play in France, including for Toulouse and Nice. He is now a scout for AC Milan.

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Pierre-Emerick came through AC Milanʼs youth structures, but was laned to various clubs in France, eventually signing for Saint-Étienne in 2011. Having established his credentials in France and when Gabon co-hosted the African Cup of Nations in 2012 he moved to Borussia Dortmund FC last season.

That transfer has changed not only his profile, but also the quality of his football, providing him the platform to showcase his immense striking prowess and nose for goals. This past year, particularly, he has matured into one of the deadliest strikers from Africa playing in the Bundesliga and in the European Champions League.

His speed and deadliness in front of goal have been phenomenal. Playing for one of Europe’s best teams along with other world class players has surely sharpened the edge to his game. He is attracting raving reviews, lots of attention, respect and accolades.

Coming from a small African country that does not win anything in the continent surely has reduced his direct impact in Africa, but that didnʼt stop Liberiaʼs George Weah and Maliʼs Frédéric Kanouté winning in 1995 and 2007, it would not surprise me if, purely on the strength of present performance, he is acknowledged in a year that few Africans have really been exceptional.

Surely, in terms of ability and his contribution to the ongoing success of his Borussia Dortmund – despite the wretched start to this seasonʼs Bundesliga that Jürgen kloppʼs team are enduring – week in week out, he stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the other nominees.

Another Surprise

My compatriot Ahmed Musa is another surprise inclusion. He is a regular in CSKA Moscowʼs team. Musa showed his talent in the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011 – a tournament graced by several talents on their way to becoming important names in football. West Bromwich Albionʼs Saido Berahino made that trip too. Joel Campbell hasnʼt delivered for Arsenal, although he has impressed on loan and is a mainstay of Costa Ricaʼs national team also appeared in that tournament.

Real Madridʼs James Rodríguez and Isco, Atlético de Madridʼs Koke and Antoine Griezmann, Liverpoolʼs Philippe Coutino, Tottenham Hotspurʼs Erik Lamela, Benficaʼs Nelson Oliveira (just loaned to Swansea City for the rest of this season and Chelseaʼs Oscar and Mohamed Salah, among others. Musa held his own in this company even then and he has developed since then.

He is one of the fastest footballers in the world with the uncanny ability to outsprint defenders. His finishing and crosses could be inconsistent and that has often reduced his overall impact. His performances for Nigeria during the 2014 World Cup and during the AFCON 2015 qualifiers stood out as one of the more consistent in a field of erratic strikers in the Nigerian team. However, his chances of winning the 2014 African award are slim considering that the next two players in the list may be just ahead of him in terms of impact for their club and country.

The Lifetime Achievement Candidate

Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan could have won the African Best Player award already if he had not been playing his football in the same era as Didier Drogba, Samuel Etoʼo and Yaya Touré. One after the other, these three players have completely dominated the African football scene in the past decade.

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It is clear that a player had to be exceptionally gifted to break their grip on the title. That’s the reason why even extra-ordinarily talented players like Nigeriaʼs Jay Jay Okocha and the Black Starsʼ Michael Essien did not win it.

Asamoah Gyan has resurfaced again in CAF’s list even as he has moved in the past three seasons to establish himself as one of the best players ever in Asian football history. But Asia is not Europe. Gyan held his own in England at Sunderland before forcing a move to the Middle-East. Playing in an obscure league for a completely unknown club called Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates does not help his cause. It may cost him the award again.

Nevertheless, some people think he played some of his best football during the 2014 World Cup, scoring two goals and becoming the African player with the highest number of goals in the history of the World Cup, one goal ahead of the legendary Roger Milla. Another factor in Gyanʼs favour – perhaps the most important this time – would be because selectors may already be developing Yaya Touré fatigue.

Dominant

Yaya Touré has been so dominant in the midfield where he plays for his Club and for his country that it will surprise no one should he get the award for the fourth consecutive time. Without question he is the most gifted African player of this generation – tall, powerful, elegant, graceful, skilful, deceptively quick, technically proficient and masterful on the ball. He is the only African player in FIFA’s list of the world’s best 20 players in 2014.

This season he has not played quite up to the level of the previous season but he is still dominating every midfield, dictating and controlling play, and delivering deadly ‘poison’ of goals whenever he finds himself in the periphery of the oppositionʼs goals. Also he has returned to form for Manchester City at just the right time for the selectors to notice.

CAF and its President Issa Hayatou may sentimentally want a new face to adorn the award and to break the monotony of another Yaya Touré victory, but on form and achievement he is the best of the candidates. He deserves to clinch the title of Africa’s best footballer again.

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Lost Boys

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 26th 2014)

Disarray

Where did it all go wrong? The Black Stars have crashed out of the World Cup after an acrimonious campaign that turned them from quarter-finalists four years ago to propping up an admittedly tough group today. Many feel that Ghana got exactly what they deserved this time. Players demanded and got £1.76m for appearances. John Boye was later captured in a crass photograph kissing his money.

Hours before the vital match against Portugal two players were sent home in disgrace by the Ghana Football Association (GFA). Sulley Muntari had assaulted GFA member Moses Armah and Kevin-Prince Boateng had verbally abused coach James Kwesi Appiah. Ghana were beaten 2-1 by Portugal, leaving the Black Stars with the wooden spoon. Difficult group or not it was a spectacular descent from four years ago when they lost in the final of the African Cup of Nations and the quarter-finals of the World Cup. And in 2006 they were the only African team to reach the knock-out stages – the last sixteen.

Adopted

The Black Stars were adopted as Africaʼs team just four years ago when they were the last African team standing in Africaʼs World Cup. Victimised by a player many love to hate, Luis Suárez Díaz, Ghana had most of the worldʼs sympathy vote too. Suárezʼ handball denied Dominic Adiyah a certain goal and a first appearance of an African team in a semi-final of the World Cup, but Asamoah Gyanʼs penalty struck the bar and Uruguay went through on penalties.

Suárezʼ ban for that semi-final was scant consolation for Ghana, whose World Cup hopes were in tatters. The Black Stars were inconsolable and Africa cried with and for them too. Suárezʼ cheating – many others would have done the same – earned him hero status in his country, but it was cheating and it cost Ghana and Africa dear.

FIFA did nothing to prevent repetition of Suárezʼ offence. Ghana got nothing but sympathy and even that wasnʼt unanimous. Awarding a penalty and sending off was seen by many as punishment enough. But an unseemly row over money and two players being ejected from their squad wrecked their preparation for the crucial match against Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal, which they lost. It has also cost them support.

Team of the Decade

Six years ago we interviewed an African legend Charles Kumi Gyamfi, arguably the greatest coach in African history – only the Egyptian Hassan Shehata has won as many African Cup of Nations trophies. Gyamfi was an integral part of Africaʼs Football Revolution – a time when Ghanaʼs first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah developed a plan implemented by Gyamfi and Ohene Djan1 to use football and its power to demonstrate African achievement.

Half a century ago it was all so different. Ghana had just won the African Cup of Nations under Gyamfi in 1963. He had learned to coach in Germany and brought those newly acquired skills back to Ghana. He not only became the coach – inheriting József Emberʼs team – but shared his knowledge with other former players and those reaching the end of their careers.

Two years later Gyamfi replaced ageing players and set the foundations for future success as the Black Stars retained their title. The coup that toppled Nkrumah in 1966 forced Djan out and Gyamfi was demoted to assist a fitness trainer who had just passed his coaching qualifications. Ghana lost the 1968 final unexpectedly to Congo-Kinshasa and to hosts Sudan in 1970.

Ghana was the African team of the 1960s and Gyamfi played a huge part in achieving that honour. His views on football in his heyday as a coach bear a striking resonance today.

Success

“In football it is not a question of succeeding all the time”, Gyamfi says. “You can’t get that. It all depends on the unity and unifying the people together and the understanding. If the understanding comes in within the people, then you go ahead. When we started moving everybody was happy, everywhere happy that we were winning championships. When we talk about Africa we are number one and everybody was happy about it, but how to get there”?

Nkrumahʼs vision and Djanʼs delivery of that dream played a very large part in turning Ghana into the team to emulate. Gyamfi was aware of what was needed. “You know, to get there politically, you have to get people who would understand what was going on”, he said. “You see if you send somebody who is not interested in the game – not interested in football – and came in from outside then he can’t deliver. He cannot deliver, but when you send somebody who understands it, he will be more useful, then it can work and you can move forward and he will deliver”.

The Demise of Ghanaian Football

Gyamfi has a simple explanation of where and why things began to go so wrong. “Football became money”, he said. “Motivation was not for the team – infrastructure and all sorts of things. You see it became very difficult in handling the national structure and you know this is the country where the cake must be shared – even not equally, but it must be shared for everybody to get it, because we have football: we have athletics, we have boxing and hockey and other sports you see”.

But now it is even worse. Obscene money is available in football and a threatened strike was averted by paying players £1.76m. Gyamfi foresaw these problems. “If the cake is going to be shared it must be shared equally among them, but the money that comes in is not sufficient and to be all in football if the money is not there, then you don’t have the culture there”, he says. “This is how things started to go wrong”.

It could and should have been so different even then. “To hear my boss, who was then Dr Kwame Nkrumah, tell us what we were capable of inspired us” Gyamfi told us. “He talked to us about what we could do totally. He believed in us and in football. He helped me greatly”. But then disaster struck for Ghana, its football and for Africa – the coup that overthrew Nkrumah. According to the great Zambian leader Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Africa never recovered from it.

“A lot of things went wrong after he [Nkrumah] was overthrown”, Gyamfi said. “At that time they said they would call me back, but they never call me back. I went away. They wanted to play for money and things went wrong. Later they said sorry and called me back”. It wasnʼt just Africa that never recovered from the 1966 coup.

 

Black Stars in Crisis

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 26th 2014)

Pyrrhic Win for Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his solitary goal in the World Cup Finals to beat Ghana 2-1 after a dreadful error by Ghanaʼs goal-keeper Fatau Dauda gifted the World Player of the Year the winner. Earlier John Boye sliced Miguel Velosoʼs cross into his own net to give Portugal a fortuitous lead – fortuitous as the Bahranian referee Nawaf Shukralla broke up a Ghanaian attack.

The referee intercepted André Ayewʼs pass to Christian Atsu with the Chelsea winger – he spent the last season on loan to Vitesse Arnhem. Ayew was incensed, but Shukralla allowed play to continue. Eventually it reached Veloso on the left flank and his cross was sliced horribly into his own net by Boye.

Shorn of the talents of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari – sent home in disgrace – Ghana faced an uphill struggle, but The remaining players seemed up for the fight. Just over ten minutes into the second half Ayew broke forward before finding Juventusʼ Kwadmo Asamoah on the left wing. Asamoahʼs cross, delivered with the outside of his left foot was a sumptuous one that begged a finish and Asamoah Gyan did not disappoint.

Gyan broke another of Roger Millaʼs records. Earlier this week Colombian goal-keeper Faryd Mondragón Ali became the oldest man to play in the World Cup, breaking Roger Millaʼs 24 year-old record. And today, Gyan eased past Milla in the scoring stakes, becoming the most prolific African marksman in World Cup history with 6.

Ronaldo opened his account to get the winner as Mensah and Dauda got in each otherʼs way. Dauda patted it out straight to Ronaldo who scored easily, but the win was hollow. The thrashing that Portugal took at the hands of Germany in their first match cost them dear as despite losing to Germany the USA went through on goal difference.

The Cult Hero

Ronaldo signalled his intent in 5 minutes. Out on the right wing Ronaldo shot from 40 yards out. It beat Dauda convincingly, but rebounded off the crossbar. Over ten minutes later João Pereira crossed from the left and Ronaldo headed powerfully at goal. Dauda produced a fantastic reflex save and celebrated wildly.

At the other end Gyan turned and shot, producing an instinctive save with his feet from Portuguese goal-keeper Beto. Gyan had a header saved too before turning provider on the left after an hour. His cross should have been headed in by Majeed Waris, but Spartak Moscowʼs on loan striker headed wide.

Failure

Ronaldo failed to add to his tally twice more in injury time. He flicked Naniʼs cross over and shortly after was denied by Daudaʼs feet. Portugal clung on for the win, but not even Ronaldo could drag Portugal through to the next round. Germany and the USA reached the last sixteen.

Portugal were eliminated by the eventual winners Spain in the last 16 four years ago and Ghana were a handball away from the semi-finals. But both have regressed badly. The Black Stars prop the group up. Can James Kwesi Appiah hold on to his job?

 

Klose Equals Record in Thrilling Draw

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 21st 2014)

Thrill-Draw

Kwesi Appiahʼs Black Stars fell just short in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Germany. Mario Götze put Germany ahead after 51 minutes after a thrilling move where Ghana could not get a touch. Three minutes later Marseilles midfielder André Ayew headed Ghana level. Almost ten minutes later Asamoah Gyan put Ghana ahead.

Joachim Löw brought Miroslav Klose on. The German striker was tied with former record holder for goals in the World Cup Finals with German legend Gerd Müller on 14, one behind Brasilʼs Ronaldo (Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima). With 20 minutes remaining Klose equalled the record from inches out.

A Thrilling Display

Ghana didnʼt get a look in as Germany moved the ball from left to right five minutes into the second half. Thomas Müllerʼs cross was headed onto his knee and past Fatawu Dauda by Götze to give the lead. Löwʼs team were not allowed to settle.

Three minutes Esperanceʼs Harrison Afful overlapping on the right wing, cut back and crossed. It was met with a powerful angled header by André Ayew that gave the German keeper no chance. Nine minutes later German captain Phillip Lahm gave possession away to Sulley Muntari, whose pass found Gyan on the right of the area. He shot across Neuer to give Ghana a deserved lead.

This was not in Löwʼs script. Klose was introduced. With 20 minutes left a corner was headed on by Benedikt Höwedes. Klose slid in to tap-in – the fourth World Cup Finals that he had scored in. Only two others have matched that feat.

Ghana should have gone 3-1 up moments earlier, but substitute Jordan Ayew saw his name in the headlines. Racing down the left flank he had opportunities to pass to a better placed Gyan. He spurned both and shot tamely at Neuer. Ten minutes later Jordan Ayew repeated his error.

Müller had just been denied by a superb last ditch tackle by Juventusʼ Kwadmo Asamoah. John Boye also performed heroics in defence and a promising 3 on 2 attack was wasted when substitute Mubarak Wakaso was caught off-side. A draw was a fair result, but Ghana will be observing tomorrowʼs match between the USA and Portugal carefully.

No Comparison

Compared to the second half the first was largely forgettable. Christian Atsu crossed for Asamoah Gyan up to shoot after 7 minutes, but the Al-Ain striker shot over. The 35 yard pass by Sulley Muntari to find Atsu was sumptuous.

There were few other clear chances in the first half, although Gyan seemed to be looking for penalty just over half an hour into the match. There was no contact from Germanyʼs goal-keeper Manuel Neuer as Gyan miss-controlled for a goal-kick. He seemed to be looking for contact and a penalty that never came.

 

USA Down Black Stars

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 16th 2014)

Dreams

Jürgen Klinsmann got the start he wouldn’t even have dreamed of. First his team scored the 5th fastest goal in World Cup history and a late winner. After just 31 seconds the USA’s captain Clint Dempsey cut into the area on the left past John Boye scoring off the opposite post. Jermaine Jones got the assist to put the USA into a shock lead.

Marseilles’ André Ayew equalised with the outside of his left foot after a sublime back-heeled assist by Al-Ain’s Asamoah Gyan after 82 minutes. Kwadmo Asamoah’s pass from the left wing found Gyan. However, three minutes later right-back Fabian Johnson’s persistence won a corner. Substitute John Brooks rose highest to head the USA into a late lead from Graham Zusi’s corner. The USA resisted manfully as Ghana chased the game again.

Catch Up

Caught cold in the first minute Ghana had to chase the game finding most joy on the right flank through the raw talent of Christian Atsu. Tim Howard marshalled the American defence well, intercepting at Asamoah Gyan’s feet and making important saves too. And at the other end Sunderland’s misfiring striker – one goal in the season – Jozy Altidore failed to take advantage of excellent work on the right wing by Alejandro Bedoya.

Shortly afterwards Altidore’s World Cup ended as he grimaced in pain having pulled his hamstring. With almost half an hour gone Gyan finally tested Howard. The keeper was equal to the task. Only Jordan Ayew will know how he fluffed an easy chance in first half injury time set up by Atsu. In the second half Ghana chased the match. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien were brought on and chances came. Gyan had two headers – one requiring a save from Howard. The pressure increased until the USA’s defence began to buckle. But just when Ghana thought they had the platform to steal the win, the USA won the corner that made Brooks into a hero.

Leniency

With refereeing an issue in this tournament Jonas Eriksson’s style seemed strange. Jordan Ayew was fortunate to escape a card for tackling Kyle Beckerman from behind. Beckerman, not to be outdone, cynically tripped Kwadmo Asamoah as he was about to shoot. Eriksson played advantage as Atsu shot just wide, but he could have booked Beckerman as he deserved.

Eriksson’s leniency was in evidence again when Sulley Muntari fouled Jones and was accidentally caught in the head as Jones fell. Muntari reacted to it as Jones pleaded his innocence – he was. A talking to sufficed although Muntari deserved a card for the foul and/or his reaction. Klinsmann did his reputation no favours when he indicated that Boye had elbowed Dempsey in the face causing a nose-bleed. He hadn’t. He kicked him in the face. It was unintentional, but his foot should never have been anywhere near that high. It was dangerous play even if it was unintentional.

Problems

Ghana were unfortunate not to become Africa’s first team to reach the semi-final in the last World Cup. They will have problems making it out of their group now. Having got nothing from the USA they need to recover quickly a find a way to beat a rampant Germany which thrashed Portugal 4-0 earlier today.

They will also need to hope that other results go their way. A buoyant USA face a demoralised Portugal next. An American win will cause problems and may leave the Black Stars hoping for a favour from Klinsmann’s team against Germany. Meanwhile, the USA must fancy their chances now. If ever Portugal are vulnerable, it is now with or without Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

Black Stars Thrash South Korea

by Satish Sekar at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami © Satish Sekar (June 9th 2014)

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Confidence

James Kwesi Appiahʼs Ghana leave for Brasil and the World Cup tomorrow after a confidence-boosting 4-0 drubbing of South Korea. Jordan Ayew – one of three internationals fathered by Ghanaian great Abedi (Pelé) Ayew – came off the bench following a 4th minute injury to Majeed Waris caused by a bad sliding tackle by Ki Sung-yeung. The leg injury saw Waris assisted from the pitch. Jordan Ayew – his brother André also played – bagged a hat-trick.

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The first came after 10 minutes with scuffed and deflected shot that beat South Korean goal-keeper Jung Sung-ryong to his left. His second – sandwiched an excellent solo effort by Asamoah Gyan – came 6 minutes after the break and was easily the pick of his hat-trick. He completed his hat-trick with a tap in after excellent wing play by the Black Starsʼ unheralded Albert Adomah, currently playing for Middlesbrough, but who started with non-league Harrow Borough.

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Harsh

South Korea contributed to the match and were unlucky to depart, having been thrashed. Fatau Daudaʼs poor club form continued into this match. The Black Starsʼ defence of Harrison Afful, Kwadmo Asamoah, John Boye and veteran John Mensah were tested by the South Koreans, early Chung Yong Lee, but misfortune dogged Koreaʼs endeavours.

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Five minutes before half-time Son Heung-min hit the post. It rebounded off Boye for a corner. Kim Young-gwonʼs cross resulted in an unconvincing looking Dauda flap at it. Dauda was afforded extra protection by the referee who disallowed what should have been the equaliser – Kwak Tae-Hwiʼs header. Shortly afterwards, adding insult to injury, Gyan appeared to foul Kwak to gain possession before dashing towards the area and clinically dispatching the chance.

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Despite chasing goals South Koreaʼs best chances had passed by half-time. While André Ayew seemed to want to score a special goal, trying a spectacular bicycle kick rather than the simple option his brother helped himself to a hat-trick that may just have helped him force his way into Appiahʼs starting line-up.

Jordanʼs second came 8 minutes into the second half. Sulley Muntariʼs pass found him outside the area and Jordanʼs shot gave Jung no chance. A minute before normal time ended a tap-in completed the hat-trick that sent Ghana off to Brasil full of confidence.

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