I went to watch the Black Stars play a friendly match against Senegal at the Brentford Stadium in London (UK) on 17 Aug 2005 - before they played the last match in the World cup campaign.
I had not seen the Blackstars in live action since I left Ghana over 20 years ago. But in those days, I was a fanatical Kotoko supporter with a very great love and understanding of Ghanaian and African football – I played to quite a high level myself.
I recall our wonderful 1982 Africa nations cup win against Libya in Tripoli, and the role that the coach CK Gyamfi played in masterminding the win - his choice of players – John Essien (Zion train), George Alhassan, the exciting emerging talents of Opoku Nti and Abedi Pele, Super industrious Kofi Badu, Sampson (Gaddafi) Lamptey, awkward goalie Owusu Mensah, Kyenkyenhene ……….I remember the timing of some crucial substitutions, and above all the function that 'Asaase J' played – He was the original water carrier – but with skill and flair combined with efficiency and discipline.
I recall also the Africa Nations cup hosted in Accra in 1978, the semi-final against the Tunisians , the precision with which Abdul Razak, scored the 'golden goal'. This was followed by a overpowering final against the Cranes of Uganda, and the way Opoku Afriyie (Bayie) hit the post 30 secs after the game began to announce to the Ugandans that 'today, for here, in Accra – there is only one winner' – and 'Bayie' scored twice to seal victory, and the way we rejoiced afterwards. A never to be forgotten, absolutely wonderful occasion especially for a football fan.
On the African clubs champions scene, I recall the despair I felt sitting in the Kumasi Sports stadium watching the 1-1 draw in the second leg of the final in 1981 between Kotoko and El-Ahly of Egypt in Kumasi, where we were trying to overcome a 3-0 away deficit. We took the lead in the first half, and Ahmed Rockson's mistake midway through the 2nd half allowed them to equalise – it was a great counter attack actually.
And I recall 2 years later in 1983, again sitting in the stadium, watching the final between the same 2 teams – this time the away leg in Egypt had been 0-0, and we needed to win the game in Kumasi to lift the cup. John Bannerman broke free on the right, and whipped a beautiful low cross for Opoku Nti to slide home midway through the first half. This was followed by the greatest rearguard action marshalled by Addae Kyenkyenhene (a skilful but slow midfielder turned centre-half), I remember him taking a full blooded shot at point blank range on his head, and glaring at the El Ahly player as if to say 'Enye ha' !!!
With the score at 1-0, late in the 2nd half El Ahly threw everything at Kotoko, and in the fiercest bombardment of the Kotoko goal they had 5 successive corner kicks, 4 of which caused goalmouth scrambles and desperate clearances out to corner again. The 5th one sailed high over the goalmouth, and into touch on the other side for a goal kick. Suddenly one white dove flew out over the Kotoko goal and swooped over the pitch, and then flew away. The whole stadium erupted, and El Ahly's onslaught fizzled out from there.
Kotoko were the Club Champions of Africa once again winning 1-0.
Back to the present………..In the last 20 yrs, I have lived in the UK, and gained more knowledge and developed a better understanding of world football. I have closely watched, learned about and analysed the British First division / Premiership which is arguably the most challenging and punishing league in the world – as well as the other top leagues in Europe primarily Serie A (Italy) and La Liga(Spain).
So based on this background and credentials, I analysed the Black stars performance against Senegal and their potential, going into the 2006 World Cup.
My heart says that we have such abundant talent that we can overcome any team that we face. But 'World class' football today involves tactics, strategy, and technical excellence, and mistakes get severely punished. Defensively we are hugely exposed. Our ability to deal with a structured aerial attack is poor. We are naïve when it comes to the counter-attack as we still 'ball-watch'. Our defending and positional play at set pieces is below par.
And that my dear brothers and sisters is our Achilles heel.
I don't know what the coach can do about this between now and June, but the major weakness we have is defensive, and I believe set pieces will be our major problem. In the Cup of Nations, it may not be that bad as we Africans know each other's style.
Taking the English for example, John Terry, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and Peter Crouch will gobble up all the brilliant crosses from David Beckham. I fear the same will occur with the Italians and the Czech's.
So the million dollar question – can we excel ?
Absolutely. The football heritage and skill that we have out of Ghana is second to none. Remember the fantastic results of our 'under 17 squad', winning their world cup twice in 1991 and 1995 – beating Brazil 3-2 in the final in '95. We reached the final again in '97 only to be beaten by Brazil.
Football is about 11 players who go out (having prepared to the best of their ability) and with great enthusiasm, belief, drive and inspiration, ON THE DAY produce heroics and SCORE goals.
My football style and approach I call 'Blitzkreig' which is German for' Lightning strike'. The fancy stuff, and over elaboration does not win games. It is about efficiency, and maximum effectiveness. The brilliant dribble must be applied within a 'Lightning strike' context to inflict maximum damage – that's when the great skill and flamboyance we are endowed with yields best results. GOALS WIN GAMES.
By the way the Brazilians have now adopted the lightning strike style of football.
So in summary, we definitely have the skill and ability. But our technical knowledge is lacking, and we are exposed defensively.
We have to be teachable, to learn about our weaknesses and how to improve them, disciplined to operate as a team for the betterment of us ALL not for individual glory (that was the key to success of the winning team in Tripoli) and give of our all – the Accra Hearts of Oak motto sums it up – Never Say die. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.