Making History

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 8th 2015)

Coaches

Avram Grant would become only the third coach to win with the Black Stars and the first foreigner – Charles Kumi Gyamfi won it thrice and Fred Osam Duodu in 1978. Ghanaians hope that the 33 year wait is about to end, but a former ally stands in their way. Hervé Renard hopes to make history too.

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He failed to persuade national legend Didier Drogba to reverse his international retirement and he knows that the Golden generation of Ivorian football has ultimately failed to deliver. Three times the Elephants have reached the final of the African Cup of Nations. Every time it went the distance.

In 1992 la Côte dʼIvoire achieved their only success. Fourteen years later Hassan Shehata led the Pharaohs to the first of three triumphs. And in 2012 Renard was the tactician who broke Ivorian hearts leading Zambia to their only Cup of Nations triumph. On each occasion the final ended in 0-0 draw – hopefully the cycle will be broken tonight.

The Next Generation

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Renard stands on the brink of history, but is quick to acknowledge another. “He won the Cup of Nations with Cameroon”, Renard said of Claude le Roy. “He deserves total credit [for Renardʼs success with Zambia], because without him I wouldnʼt set one foot in Africa. He did everything for me. Itʼs even him who spoke with Mr Kalusha Bwalya [President of the Zambian FA] about me. I think Kalusha didnʼt know me very well. I think itʼs a good record. I think I came on the right place at the right moment”.

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Bwaylya gave Renard a chance twice. “… in 2008 I was reflecting on that when Zambia was at the Africa Cup I thought, what is the best requisite for a coach to work in Africa – of course Africaʼs always been in the export of players, but an importer of coaches, so I thought to myself, we needed a young coach to come and also who was ambitious, who was not going to be too comfortable in Africa to stay here 20 years”, Bwalya told us.

Bwalya had a plan and Renard was part of it. “I thought that it was important that they stay here three, four, five years and target the Africa Cup, target the World Cup and then they can move on, so when I got Hervé Renard after I assumed office in 2008 I brought him to start to prepare the team for 2010 – Hervé Renard”, Bwalya said. “In the three years he spent a lot of time in our country; he was very, very comfortable in our country”.

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Delayed Reaction Crystal Balls

Bwalya picked the right man even if it came true in Renardʼs return. “The work ethic, he was always working”, Bwalya said. “He was not afraid to lose a game which most of the people when they come away, they look more worried about their salary and everything done than the performance of the team”.

Renard repaid Bwalyaʼs trust. The African legend was the first to take a chance on Renard. He was vindicated in 2012 when the Chipolopolo fulfilled Bwalyaʼs dreams – he fell just short as a player in 1994.

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Meanwhile, two years ago, while covering the last edition in South Africa I asked Renard who would win the African Cup of Nations. “I think Ivory Coast and Ghana will reach the final”, he said. “They are the strongest teams”. Perhaps it was a delayed reaction answer that took two years to mature.

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Another African Mentality (Part Two) – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 30th 2009)

Host And Win

The motto of the twenty-sixth African Cup of Nations was Host and Win’. Claude le Roy’s task was to turn the motto into reality. “You have to find a good balance in the African Cup of Nations”, he said. “There are players, about, 16, 17 or 18 coming through. The last few matches have been mostly young players. The problem was and is to prepare for the African Cup of Nations. That is the most important thing”.

The preparation was over. It was time to deliver on the pitch. Ghana had underachieved for more than a quarter of a century – the Black Stars last won the tournament in 1978. They had hosted and won under the great Fred Osam-Duodu. The omens were favourable, but le Roy didn’t underestimate the opposition or the task, although one important opponent – the African champions – had neatly and bizarrely slipped under his and Africa’s radar. Sadly for Hassan Shehata and Egypt it was for the last time.

I think Senegal: Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon will be difficult opponents”, said le Roy. “You never know they might be too good and you may find a surprise from qualifiers like Guinea. We know that it will be difficult. We also know that we have to show a lot of discipline. I think there is a good chance to win as the host nation, but I’m sure that others will try hard too. I think it will be a fantastic African Cup of Nations in Ghana.”

The Axe Swings

Le Roy wasn’t wrong. Ghana cruised through their group to qualify as group winners, accompanied by Guinea. Pascal Feindounou’s moment of madness cost his team dear as he was still deservedly suspended for the match against la Côte d’Ivoire and the Ivorians took advantage to help themselves to a 5-0 goal-fest.

It would prove to be the zenith for Gérard Gili. The Frenchman who had coached the Ivorians’ Olympic team was thrust into the top job following the tragedy that struck previous incumbent Uli Stielike who had to resign to tend to his dying son. He was shown the door after his defence conceded four goals in consecutive matches to Egypt and Ghana and had to settle for fourth place in a tournament they had expected to win.

Meanwhile, le Roy did Nigeria a huge favour – Ghana drew the Super-Eagles in the quarter-final. Despite losing their captain John Mensah to a red card, the Black Stars always looked the better team. Berti Vogts’ tactics were conservative and not suited to the moment. Nigeria lost and the axe loomed large for Vogts, who resigned before the Nigerian Federation could fire him. Meanwhile Cameroun required extra time to scrape past Tunisia in an exciting match.

The Weight of Expectations

The Black Stars were favourites to reach the final. Previous Black Stars coach Otto Pfister was in charge of the Indomitable Lions and was given a gift by the Ghanaian media. They wrote off Cameroun before the match. Pfister had no problems motivating his team. It was a strange match. Ghana created several chances, but the bane of the World Cup campaign returned – utterly profligate finishing.

We dominated the game,” said defender Eric Addo. “We had a lot of suspended and injured players. It was very difficult. We managed to play good. We managed to create half chances. We just didn’t put them in the back of the net and Cameroun had one chance and scored. I don’t think we deserved to lose this game. Like I’ve said we dominated the game. We had chances. We were always crossing – I don’t how many crosses we put in in the whole game, but they had one chance. They scored – that’s football today.”.

His assessment is a little harsh on Cameroun. Pfister had a game plan to absorb the pressure and hit them on the counter-attack. It worked splendidly with Alain Nkong scoring the goal that broke Ghanaian hearts.

Le Roy had a different take. “I think the main reason is a lot of injuries make a huge difference”, he said. “We have five players of the first eleven who missed the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations. I think it’s too much”.

He wasn’t enamoured of the refereeing of Moroccan Aderahim el Arjoune either. “I don’t like to think about the referee, but you cannot say it was a great referee today”, le Roy said. “I saw the game actually and I respect that they won and I congratulate them for their win, but you see the game. I don’t think that they deserved to win, but they won. It’s happening in other countries, but I think it was even a little bit more than that – no home advantage for us. I cannot find that as an excuse. It wouldn’t be fair”.

The Black Stars had failed to host and win. Le Roy had to raise his team and deliver a farewell performance in Kumasi. Third place was now the best that was on offer. He knew that the media that had raised expectations to fever pitch would look no further than him for the cause of the Black Stars’ defeat. There were sure to be recriminations.