After a four year hiatus, Ghana's u-23 football team staged an incredible comeback into the international Olympic fraternity when the Black Meteors shrugged off the Zambian opposition to pick one of the four tickets allotted to Africa for this years Olympic Games.
Going into Sunday's game with both teams at ten points apiece, the emphatic 2-0 result was the jewel in the crown of Coach Mariano Barreto and his team and Ghanaians who have had little to cheer about in recent times as a result of the nations plummeting fortunes, left the stadium serenading and celebrating into the wee hours of the night.
By this uplifting result Ghana joined three other African countries namely Mali, Tunisia and Morocco to spearhead the African challenge for the gold medal in the August sports fiesta to be staged in the ancient and luxurious city of Athens. Nigeria and Cameroon, the two countries that broke Ghana's record setting bronze winning feat when they won gold medals in the 1996 and 2000 Games would be the notable absentees after they were both edged out by Mali and Tunisia respectively.
But Sunday's victory though salutary and resounding provided Ghanaians an incredible opportunity to exact some semblance of vengeance against the Zambians and for good reason.
Almost two decades ago the Zambians left a sour taste in the mouths of all Ghanaians when they stormed Accra and stole the only ticket for the Seoul Olympics. Ghanaians never forgot that day. Neither did the technical team and the 18 young men that wore the red, gold and green colours of Ghana. They plotted a revenge strategy and perfectly executed it by trouncing the Southern African nation and as a result slammed the door to Athens in their face just like they did to us in 1988.
So kudos to Coach Barreto and his boys, the Ghana Football Association (GFA), the Sports Ministry and all soccer loving Ghanaians whose undying loyalty to our players is so unfeigned and unquestionable. Howbeit the work is not over and like coach Barreto said “We have to go to the Olympics and do well.”
Even though we have scaled a major hurdle by picking one of the four slots for Africa, we should prepare ourselves for the major test and that is going to the Olympics to take our bronze winning feat several notches up to the ultimate-the Gold Medal.
The advantage that comes with playing in ones home arena and in front of a partisan crowd is over. The challenge of playing a composed game to the symphony of cheers and boos is not for the faint hearted and players who do not have the big game temperament would find that a difficult hurdle to scale. That is basically the gist of what the Black Meteors and their technical handlers have to come to terms with.
We need to rev up the psyche of our players ASAP in order for them to reach their mental and psychological peak before the tournament commences. Most European nations who dominate football lack the skills, Africans and South Americans have in abundance. They compensate for what they lack by adopting a much disciplined and highly organized approach to their game and that is where they trump over us. The South Americans, particularly the Brazilians and the Argentines have embraced this concept and are on top of their game. The Colombians haven't and they are sliding into oblivion.
Sadly we in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa seems so set in our ways and that answers why we continue to fade in the scheme of things. For us to succeed in our dream to annex the gold medal and it a record back-to-back-to-back trio for Africa we have to combine the synergy of our skills and flair with the organizational discipline and approach of the Europeans. We have to learn to win 50-50 balls and also strive to convert free-kicks, corner kicks and penalty kicks. Don Bortey is a gem in the area of corner kicks. He practically bends the ball like Beckham but he need to be encouraged in this area. Another dimension albeit very fundamental in determining the team with the winning formula is in the importance of educating the players to work with the officiating crew-the referees and their assistants.
It is very common to see players remonstrating with referees after a decision have been made. That is a red flag. We don't need to antagonize the referee and his assistants. The moral here is “play to the whistle”.
I am yet to see a team that has lost a game by going according to this script. This is what the handlers of the Meteors have to tell the players as we prepare for the tournament.
However I have faith in the abilities of our players. I really credit the local players for shouldering most of the burden that came with the dream of taking Ghana to the Olympics. They have really made the nation proud. Players who readily come to mind are Abubakari Yahuza, Chibsah, Kojo Poku. These guys stand out as the powerful triumvirate that played very crucial roles in achieving our dream of making it to the Olympics. I must emphasis that this is not been done to spite others. I believe we have been able to come this far because it has been a collective effort but like in every event of historical value, the efforts of those who did exemplary work are recognized and rewarded. The foreign based players who left their bases to fight for a place in the team need to be congratulated. Above all we need to applaud Coach Barreto for creating a highly competitive spirit in the Meteors camp and for instilling discipline among the players. That has been our bane over the years and it is a move that would prove salutary and helpful in the end.
By digging his heels in, in the glare of a strong wave of media criticism over his handling of his Curriculum Vitae, Coach Mariano Barreto has shown us that his chin is not made of glass. I applaud him for pitching in and helping this nation stage its long-awaited renaissance in football. Is this the beginning of great things to come? You bet.