04.08.2004 Sports News

Can Ghana complete the African Olympic soccer treble?

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By Richard Avornyotse, GNA Sports Desk

Accra, August 3, GNA - Though Ghana's Black Meteors broke the ice in Barcelona in 1992 by winning Africa's first medal in Olympic football history - a bronze - their feat has been overshadowed by the successes of Nigeria and Cameroon which mined gold in Atlanta and Sydney in 1996 and 2000 respectively.

Until the Ghanaian glory, Africa had always fallen by the way side in the soccer segment of the Olympic Games, even though some of her representatives played the most exciting football and recorded some landmark results as did Zambia when they spanked Italy in Seoul in 1988. No doubt, Ghanaians celebrated the bronze as if it were gold and many indeed referred to it as "golden bronze" while coach Sam Arday's clout multiplied and most members of the squad won contracts to play for top European clubs.

The Ghanaian tale might have inspired Nigeria, their arch West African rivals who braved the odds to win the ultimate, four years later in Atlanta via a stunning golden goal result against Brazil in the final.

While Nigeria blazed the trail to signal the arrival of the African era, some contra African analysts tried to play down their victory by blaming Italian referee Piereluigi Collina for failing to penalise Emmanuel Aminike for offside before he scored the winner. Such anti African sentiments were smashed and incinerated when Cameroon exerted the continent's newfound Olympic championship form in Sydney four years later.

The result in the final match was magnificent, as the Africans came from two goals down against mighty Spain to draw level in regulation time, before scaling over the Spaniards 5-3 in a penalty shoot out after 30 minutes of extra time could not produce a winner.

And to recall that Cameroon had beaten Brazil and Chile by 2-1 at the quarter and semi final stages of the competition makes their success more spectacular.

As the curtain raises on the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in a few days, the African challenge will be posed by the Black Meteors of Ghana, their northern neighbours from Mali and Tunisia.

The question that readily comes to mind is whether Africa could triumph again to complete a treble of Olympic soccer gold medals and institute a domination of the event.

Of the lot, it appears the former bronze medallists have the ace to complete a hat trick of gold medals for Africa.

In their penultimate qualifying series, the Black Meteors of Ghana broke the South African jinx by registering the double over them, winning by a lone goal in the first leg in Accra before scoring a landmark 2-1 away win in South Africa.

When it was the turn of the Zambians in the final qualifying round, the Meteors shone again by drawing away and winning at home to land a ticket to Athens.

The composition of the team, which comprises young talented players who command regular shirts in the rejuvenated senior national team, the Black Stars makes a strong case for a possible success.

Though the Meteors are lumped in Group B with soccer heavyweights Italy, Paraguay and Japan, the Africans have enough experience and guts to withstand any challenge from whatever quarters.

From goalkeepers George Owu and Mohammed Alhassan, to teenage star Sulley Muntrari, the Meteors can boast of some of the finest ball players on the continent today.

Portuguese coach Professor Mariano Barreto must be able to fuse his intellectual capacity with varied tactics to answer any puzzles that the opposition might offer.

The defensive formation of Daniel Coleman, John Mensah, Addoquaye Pappoe and John Painstil should galvanise and seal the goal area of the Meteors and protect the keepers from bombardment.

It also behoves Charles Taylor, Yusuf Chibsah, Derrick Boateng, Abubakar Yahuza, Razak Ibrahim and Muntari to play above the ordinary in the middle and oil the attack with precise and purposeful passes to create the goals.

As matches are won through goals, the front line must ensure that they take their chances as they come in order to achieve the objective that they have set for themselves, Ghana and Africa by winning the gold to complete the African hat trick.

Asamoah Gyan and his big brother Baffour are worth their onions in goal-scoring same as Kodwo Poku, Razak Pimpong, and Isaac Boakye, their colleagues in the strike force.

With the inclusion of the Stephen Appiah, the inspirational Black Stars skipper as one of the three over-aged players, the Meteors have an armada that could be as devastating as a nuclear bomb and all that remains is for them to find their effective range and bring glory to mother Ghana and Africa. Keep shooting. 03 Aug 04

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