WITHIN the next eight months, the senior national soccer team, the Black Stars, would have a full plate of soccer action starting with the African Cup of Nations in Egypt in January and ending with participation in the World Cup in June.
Almost three weeks after qualifying for the world's elite soccer fiesta in Germany, the euphoria of celebrations still continues to bubble throughout the country, even as the Ghana Football Association and the Black Stars technical team map out their preparatory strategies towards Egypt and Germany.
Serbian coach Ratomir Dujkovic, who is on a short holiday in Europe, is yet to assemble his players for the Egypt tournament that is only about three months away. He is reported to be putting together the foreign component of his team to be blended later with the locals.
But as plans are being made for both assignments, it must be borne in mind that the Egypt tournament is not only the stepping stone to Germany but also a crucial test that should be treated with the utmost importance, considering the tough opposition awaiting the Black Stars in Group D, dubbed the 'Group of Death.' The other teams in Group D are Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe.
Whilst the Stars compete in the toughest group of the tournament, they should be reminded of the prestige that goes with winning the continental crown. Of course, conquering Africa would mark a record fifth, just as the nation reigned for a long time as four time champions, until the record was equalled by Egypt and Cameroun.
Ghana's performance in Egypt, therefore, would certainly go a long way to enhance the nation's image in Germany. The tournament would undoubtedly improve the physical and psychological conditioning of the players before they make their debut in Germany.
And whilst gearing up for the task ahead in Germany, would the Stars be able to face the challenges of proving to Africa and the world that the routine of warming up in the dressing room for over 45 years has adequately offered them the necessary preparation towards joining the elite of world soccer nations? It's also good news that coach Dujkovic is leaving no stone unturned to infuse his team with crack foreign-based players like Samuel Osei Kuffour, Shamo Abbey, Louis Agyeman, Eric Addo, Charles Taylor, Alex Techie Mensah, Anthony Obodai, Alex Tetteh, Samuel Yeboah and Razak Pimpong.
Undoubtedly, the inclusion of some of these players would strengthen the Stars team. For, all that Ghanaians are yearning for is the best team that would conquer Africa and also rank among the best at the World Cup. However, some of us would expect the coach to present our best for both the African Cup and the World Cup. There shouldn't be a situation when top players like Michael Essien and Skipper Appiah would be rested for the Germany 2006.
One would expect coach Dujkovic to present the best available team for the two tournaments, because both the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup championships are equally important for the nation. Indeed, it's going to be the first time Ghana would simultaneously go into two major tournaments within the same year.
And by presenting the best team, the pertinent question is whether or not the services of versatile Osei Kuffour would be needed. This columnist has on previous occasions brought the Kuffour issue to the fore. On each occasion, this writer has thrown the challenge to the Stars coach and the AS Roma player to amicably settle their differences.
Happily, there is the possibility of Dujkovic recalling Kuffour into the team. The coach is reported to be “closely monitoring” the performance of Kuffour and he is likely be recalled into the team.
The Kuffour-Dujkovic-GFA fracas must be closed now. It's been an unfortunate affair and the page on must be closed before the team participates in both the Egypt and Germany tournaments.
Now, with the signing of a three-year renewable kit sponsorship contract between the Ghana Football Association and Puma, German kit sponsors, the FA has made a good start to help to prepare the Black Stars adequately for the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup.
According to the $12 million sponsorship package, Puma would cater for payment of bonuses for the Black Stars at both the Egypt and Germany championships, the supply of equipment worth $300,000, marketing of the GFA and the arrangement of international friendlies for the Stars. Puma will also kit all the national teams till 2008. However, what bothers some of us is the manner in which the contract with the Puma company was signed. As reported by an Accra daily, Mr Widmann Horst, Vice President of Puma, who signed for his company, was reported to have stated that “the contract was signed two months ago.”
This, therefore, attests to the fact that the contract, signed in Accra between the FA and Puma about a fortnight ago, was indeed, not the 'real' contract. That the 'real' contract was signed long before Adidas, Nike, Umbro, Asics and Pony bid for the kit package.
Isn't it therefore strange that the GFA should tell the whole world that the German kit company's $12 million package was “the best offer compared with the other five kit sponsors – Adidas, Nike, ASICS, Umbro and Pony – put on the table,” when it was aware that the deal had been signed before the other five companies were invited for the bid.
I hope somebody at the GFA is listening. Let's hear from you.
Till next week, that's the way it is!