02.07.2003 Sports News

Tortuous Road To Tunisia

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I believe many Ghanaians have in the past few days been wondering whether the Black Stars are not falling apart like how the ancient Ghana Empire collapsed.From the high point of glory when the Black Stars strutted the continental landscape like a colossus among midgets, the four times African Champions are now only clinging to the fringes of their once-enviable status.

In what, perhaps, can be said to be an exaggeration of the decline in the Stars' fortunes, some people think the national team has been reduced to a holes-riddled hill, with all kinds of rodents turning it into a safe place of abode.Whatever perceptions people may have about the present state of the Stars, it is beyond dispute that the team has almost been divested of the clout that once upon a time made it the pride of all Africa.

Some humiliating defeats suffered by the Stars in recent days, particularly the 3-1 trouncing by Kenya's Harambee Stars in a friendly at the Accra Stadium, have caused countless Ghanaian hearts to bleed. The issue is not about the fact that the Stars suffer defeats; after all even mighty Brazil from time to time goes through the agony of having to put up with defeats.

What people find unacceptable in Ghana's situation is the quality of opposition that has lately inflicted such pain on us - Liberia, Uganda and Kenya.The worry is that apart from Senegal '92 when the Stars put up one of their best appearances ever in the Nations Cup, and to some extent South Africa '96, what Ghanaians have over the years been accustomed to is ordinary performance by their national team.

While countries like Cameroun, Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria have sustained the tempo of their game, with emerging forces like Senegal and Mali stepping up acceleration to be in the forefront of supremacy in continental football, Ghana has had to resign herself to peripheral contentment. The real threat of Ghana missing out on Tunisia 2004 has once again stirred debate among fans as to whether the problem is basically one of coaching, or it's got something to do with the quality of our players.

All things considered, we have some of the most promising players in Africa today who can be blended into a formidable squad to redeem Ghana's image. What we have failed to do to make things look up for us is our inexplicable inability to keep a team together.

I don't think anybody at the FA Secretariat can exactly tell how many players have been in and out of the Black Stars since 1992. We will all marvel at the list! The Indomitable Lions of Cameroun, for instance, have always swept us off our feet by the beauty of their game. No magic accounts for that; it is simply their ability to keep a team together for so long that their team cohesion has become telepathic.

In the circumstance it doesn't matter how late a coach is brought from outside to handle the Lions, there is little work for him to do by way of getting the team battle-ready. Despite the Black Stars exiting Mali 2002 too early, the consensus was that the team was full of promise and so should be kept together. But in no time we were back to our old way of doing things - dismantled the squad and started all over again.

That is the price we have been paying in recent times, and the possibility of the gloom being lifted looks so remote until we break out of that spiral of retrogression. There have been occasions we've had to beat our chests in agony following incredibly lousy showing by the Stars because of the lack of commitment on the part of some of our players. Many of them, especially the foreign-based ones, tend to forget that but for the exposure given them through the age group teams, they wouldn't be where they are now.

They owe the country a debt of gratitude that must be forthcoming without any prompting, although it is a fact that the FA has a lot to do to strike the right chemistry between it and the players.However, as far as our qualification for Tunisia 2004 is concerned, it must be said that Coach Burkhard Ziese's second coming has been a far-from-impressive story. Maybe what he is failing to appreciate is that a lot has changed in Ghana football between 1991 and now.

Between now and next Sunday when the Stars play Rwanda in Kigali in their crucial last Nations Cup qualifier, it's going to be a moment of truth for Ghana football. But for Burkhard personally he walks an unusually tightrope. We are capable of flying out of Kigali triumphant, but that will be determined by his game plan and which players he will use. There will be no second chance for him in Kigali.

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