Black Stars Prepare To Bring The Pharaohs Down
In June 2006, when the Black Stars of Ghana demolished the Czech Republic 2-0 in the World Cup in Germany, the jubilation in Accra was out of this world. 'It was like the second coming of independence,' a woman in the jubilant crowd told BBC.
Since that World Cup date, the Black Stars of Ghana have become the pride of most people at the centre of the earth. In South Africa 2010, the Black Stars were a penalty kick away from becoming the first African national team to advance to the semi-finals of the world's most glamorous event – the World Cup.
The neat football sold by the Ghanaian national team, on their way to the quarter-finals, established the credentials of Ghana as a potential destination for the World Cup. In the crunch game with Uruguay, two times champions of the world, the Black Stars were streets ahead in terms of organisational play, and were only denied, virtually at the final whistle, by the filthy hand of Louis Suarez.
After the two highly successful raids on world football, the Black Stars have established the case for football in Ghana as, certainly, world class material. Players of the national team are on the verge of a third successive appearance at the World Cup, which in itself is an African record. But before making the date in Brazil, five times champions of the world, and, certainly, the home of the modern game, the Black Stars must negotiate a sharp curve with the Pharaohs of Egypt lying in wait.
On Tuesday, the Black Stars line-up at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi to receive the Egyptian giants, seven times champions of Africa. The second leg is scheduled to take place at the Military Stadium at the outskirts of Cairo on Tuesday, November 19.
With the economic situation in this country a mess, the only avenue for the ordinary person to seek relief from the hardship of eking out a living, is through football. And the game does not come bigger than an encounter between the Ghanaian nation team, currently ranked second in Africa behind Cote d'Ivoire and Egypt, which pioneered the art of playing football in Africa.
Hundreds of soccer fans trooped to the Ohene Djan Stadium two days ago to catch a glimpse of their heroes before the players left for Kumasi yesterday, after their second work-out at the same venue in the morning.
Being the first day of preparation, the session concentrated on running around, and generally loosening up before hectic training in Kumasi.
Even then, Accra soccer fans took the exercise seriously. People cheered and clapped when a goal was scored during a shooting exercise. 17 out of the 23 players invited actually took part in the first session. It was not as if the players had failed to turn up. At the end of training on Tuesday, the officials were waiting on only three players. Goalkeepers Richard Kingson and Adam Kwarasey, as well as midfield dynamo Kelvin-Prince Boateng, were expected yesterday. Otherwise all members of the squad are safely in camp, ready for the raid on Egypt.
FA President Kwesi Nyantakyi told newsmen that everything was in place for the Kumasi encounter, promising a great outing by the famed Black Stars.
He assured Ghanaians that all players would report for duty. He said Boateng was expected yesterday for an assessment of his fitness level, before the game in Kumasi.
There has been concern that the Shalke player might not be in the team, following reports of injury suffered by the player in the German Bundesliga, but Mr. Nyantakyi allayed fears of his inability, saying that, like all members of the squad, Boateng would report for national duty.
The FA President took advantage of the opportunity to explain Ghana's stance on the need to move the second leg match away from Cairo and Egypt altogether.
'The whole of Egypt is not safe. Innocent lives continue to be lost to violence in that country. Quite recently, nine military officers were murdered in cold blood as a result of the violence. We cannot risk our players in such a volatile atmosphere. Everybody knows that violence in Egypt knows no bounds.'
He told newsmen that football had completely shut down in the country. Egypt has had to honour a number of matches outside the country. 'Even when they had been allowed to play at home, they had done so in an empty stadium. We do not understand why the Black Stars would be made sacrificial lambs?'
With the political crisis in Cairo claiming many lives, the Ghana Football Association has already raised the red flag. The football controlling body in Ghana is demanding that the second leg match should be moved from Egypt, in view of security concerns.
In an epistle to the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), the GFA said in view of the uncertain atmosphere in Egypt, it would be improper to expose the lives of young footballers to such grave danger, and are demanding that FIFA uses its enormous power to ensure that the match is moved away from Egypt to another venue, where the players would feel safe to perform.
Football in Egypt has been on ice for some time now. The local league is on suspension in view of the violence. The national team had to perform in an empty stadium, even when they were allowed to play at home. The GFA does not see its way clear as to why the highly explosive encounter between the Pharaohs and the Black Stars should be exposed to danger.
Following the appeal from Ghana, Egyptian football officials have gone on the offensive, claiming that there would be nothing amiss, and that state security would ensure that nothing was left to chance. What they have so far failed to address is the fact that in spite of the so-called state security, hundreds of ordinary Egyptians have been killed in the conflict.
FIFA, though, has not officially reacted. Officials of the Ghana FA are keeping their options open as they await an official word from the world governing body on football. In the interim, all is on course for the explosive encounter in Kumasi on Tuesday.
In preparation, the Black Stars of Ghana began their work-out at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra on Tuesday, watched by an enthusiastic crowd waiting on them to deliver victory against Egypt.
The national team is to increase the tempo of preparation in Kumasi to ensure that all is well with the Ghanaian camp.
Minister of Youth and Sports Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah assured the team, on behalf of the government, that everything humanly possible would be made to motivate the team to overcome the Egyptian hurdle.
He told the players that just as the land of Pharaoh fell to Moses in the Bible, Egypt would fall before Moses' land at the Baba Yara Stadium.
He promised them a special package when he enter their dressing room on the day of the match. 'His Excellency the President, the government, and the entire population of Ghana are solidly behind you to bring Pharaoh down,' he said, cheered on by the players and their technical team.
The Black Stars would call on the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, for inspiration as they put finishing touches to a preparation that is expected to ensure total victory on Tuesday.