Doya for Stars’ 5th CAN title
Ratomir Dujkovic must be scratching his head in search of answers to how his grand plans for the African Cup of Nations went wrong so soon.
First there was the poor response by the players to the camping arrangement in Tunisia. As Doya left Accra with nine players he spoke of his disappointment which effectively resulted in the cancellation of what would have been a very purposeful friendly game against Egypt.
But nothing in the past few weeks would have been more disappointing than the stark realisation that Michael Essien is certain to miss the Cup of Nations while Sule Muntari seems definitely out.
The cliché about football being a team effort is all nice and idealistic but even the most optimistic believer in that principle will have to agree that going to the Cup of Nations without two of your best players is a major blow.
Essien would have guaranteed not only hype but a superb presence in midfield. He would have guaranteed the destructive tendencies that ensure that our defenders wouldn't work overtime. He would have brought fantastic passing to the table. But all that is unlikely to happen thanks to Nigel Reo-Coker's challenge on his ankle.
Sule Muntari is also out; which compounds Ghana's problems. Everyone accepts that Ghana had a fantastic midfield in the qualifiers. Between the midfield trio of Appiah, Essien and Muntari, they contributed a total of ten goals out of Ghana's seventeen. While Essien earned an African record move to the English premier league, Muntari has long been courted by the likes of Manchester United and Juventus, which says a lot about what he brings to the game.
But he won't bring those qualities to the Cup of Nations which should be a crushing blow to Ghana. It is however in the midst of such mini crisis that great teams emerge.
Dujkovic has already called up the versatile Louis Agyeman and Baba Armando to fill the void left by the two players. With an eye on a World Cup place, they would give it their all.
Football legend Abedi Ayew Pele reckons that could be one of the factors that spurs Ghana and all the other countries who have qualified for the 2006 World Cup to battle real hard for honours in Egypt.
Ghana, the legend expects, will be high up the order when the time comes. But it will be a mighty task and Dujkovic knew that as he flew out of the country with his players. “I took Rwanda to the Cup of Nations in 2004 but with Ghana, it will be a different challenge. Ghana is considered favourites and that means this will be more difficult for us,” Doya said.
Take the group stages for instance. Ghana, four times champions. Nigeria have two titles in the bag and are desperate for a third title to assuage the pain of failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Senegal were World Cup quarter finalists at the 2002 World Cup. They thrilled us but now they really look like the side that has yet to win a major African title. But every Ghanaian player thinks they will get through from that stage. Ghana-Nigeria will be tough but I believe we will come through, says the Nigeria based Joe Tex Frimpong who is likely to lead the line for Ghana in Egypt.
Captain Stephen Appiah says it will take belief and performances like what got them through the qualifying stage to get past Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe.
I say it will take a good display against Nigeria on the opening day. That game in a sense will decide everything. A win and a draw will mean Ghana will approach the next two games more relaxed and with the peace of mind to play the way they want.
A loss will increase the pressure on the Stars and given the strength of the Senegalese and their potential even in their depleted state, that is a situation the Stars will be keen to avoid.
Once those are sorted out, this should be a great tournament for Ghana. Dujkovic says he knows Ghanaians expect a fifth African title whiles Jones Attuquayefio, who two years ago was with Benin at the Cup of Nations, echoed the views of the entire nation when he said Ghanaians will expect nothing but the trophy.
An African Cup of Nations that will feature all the big names in the African game, thirty days of great football can only thrill. We in Ghana like those in Cameroun and Egypt will expect that it will be us who will be trumpeting a record fifth African title. After the events of the last two years, it is difficult to argue that is beyond the Black Stars even in the absence of Essien and Muntari.