Following Black Stars' abysmal and shambolic performance at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations [AFCON] in Cameroon, it was obvious that the team needed a new direction and new blood but the constant question was, will the impact be felt with the World Cup playoff games around the corner?
I put out an article after the team’s exit from the competition and highlighted that the Black Stars need a long term plan to be able to dominate the game of football again and also be able to regain the love and affection it once had and not just about injecting money into the team with no clear cut structure.
When Kurt Okraku, who is the Ghana Football Association [GFA] president travelled to Germany to meet Otto Addo over the Black Stars' vacant coaching job, I had my own doubts over the decision to engage the former Ghana international. Despite cooking up the tactics that held eventual winners, Germany to a 2-2 draw game, a game that was voted as the best game of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it still maintained that Addo needs more time on the job and he is not riped for the Black Stars job.
Especially after missing out on the last edition of the global showpiece in Russia in 2018, the argument was that the Black Stars need a coach who is a top-notch with a proven track record and with the requisite qualities to turn these current players around to be instant winners.
Playing old enemy Nigeria in the playoffs, government decision was to appoint someone who is capable to steer the team to secure qualification for the Mundial which will be hosted in the Arab country, Qatar. After Black Stars’ disappointing performance in Yaoundé, government who are the paymasters communicated their decision and they were precise. Milovan Rajevac must be sacked and they were not ready to negotiate with the hierarchy of the Ghana Football Association despite the Executive Council's decision to stick with the 67-year-old trainer. This decision was massively backed by Members of Parliament. Hon. KT Hammond, who is a senior member of the New Patriotic Party [NPP] threatened the Sports Minister, Mustapha Ussif, to sack the Serbian gaffer or he will lose his job as the sector minister.
Whiles the GFA were engaging Otto Addo for the job, Chris Hughton’s name astonishingly emerged as the man who is favourite to take up the job. The former Newcastle United boss was massively backed by top and powerful government officials due to his experience in the game of football. Having been invited to the Jubilee House for a four hours meeting, it was obvious that the former Bright & Hove Albion manager will be named as the new Black Stars boss for the playoffs.
Government had a huge interest as to who becomes the next Black Stars coach because $25 million has been solicited by President Akufo Addo from corporate bodies to ensure the Black Stars play in the World Cup after failing to play in the last edition.
Despite government engagement with Hughton, the hierarchy of the FA made it clear that they are not interested in the services of Mr Hughton but after weeks of disagreement, it was finally confirmed that Otto Addo has been appointed interim boss of the Black Stars with support from George Boateng and Didi Dramani as first and second-team assistant coaches with Chris Hughton in the mix as technical advisor with Richard Kingson maintaining his role as the goalkeeper’s trainer.
Following Addo’s appointment, it was reported that the FA were prepared to bear the consequences should Ghana fail to return to the Mundial. Otto Addo’s coaching prowess was critically scrutinised by football writers and broadcasters since he is just in charge as talent and scouting coach for German Bundesliga giants, Borussia Dortmund. Many were left with no option but to conclude that Ghana will not be at the World Cup for the second time since the best of brains have not been assembled for the playoff games.
With the new technical team in place, what the entire country was eager to know was the squad that will be paraded for the crucial playoff games. Nigeria, having released their squad two weeks before the game, Ghanaian football fans agitated about why the Black Stars squad has been withheld by the technical team. However, an Executive Council member confirmed that it was the decision of the technical team not to release the squad for various reasons.
This decision by the technical team is not synonymous with Ghanaians. This left many football fans frustrated but the decision was backed by the Ghana Football Association. Finally, the squad was released by the Communications Department of the FA. Ghanaian football fans for the first time in many years surprisingly were impressed with the players invited for the game and did not agitate against the call-up but it was obvious that perhaps the best players have been assembled for the game.
After the squad was announced, a colleague at the office came to my desk and asked, “Sammy, are we qualifying for the World Cup?”
Despite my doubts, I replied, “Eric, I have this funny feeling that we will qualify but I am not sure.”
My colleague with a quizzical look started laughing. I hope you are thinking what I am thinking?
I was not in Kumasi to watch the training sessions of the Black Stars prior to the match but per reports I read and some friends I interacted with gave a good account of the team’s training and preparation for the game and what Otto Addo wants to do.
A day before the game at the Baba Yara Stadium, as the rules of CAF and FIFA demand, Otto Addo faced the media and to the surprise of many, Addo spoke kindly and eloquently. Addo’s posture and composure meant a lot and his choice of words were simply amazing. It thought me one thing. Otto Addo knows his job and knew what he wanted to do with these players.
On the matchday against the Super Eagles, without Andre Ayew due to suspension, Thomas Partey led the team as captain. Despite assembling a young starting XI, the team started impressively against the starred Nigerian side who have been tipped by many to cruise over Ghana. Surprisingly, the Black Stars dominated both halves of the game and despite not finding the back of the net, the Ghanaian populace for the first time in many years were impressed with the performance of the team. The pattern of play, the understanding and the fighting spirit among the players was magical and envious. This is a Black Stars team that failed to live up to expectations in Cameroon and could not win even a game.
Following the stalemate at the Baba Yara Stadium, Otto Addo assured that there was a plan to hurt Nigeria in their own backyard to secure qualification for the World Cup. Ahead of the game much-anticipated game at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, indeed, the plan worked perfectly as promised by Otto Addo. With the away goal playing a crucial role in the game, the Black Stars needed a 1-1 draw to secure a qualification or any form of a draw apart from 0-0 which would have resulted in a penalty shootout.
Addo kept faith in the same lineup in the first leg. However, Thomas Partey breaking the deadlock was a massive chance for the Black Stars but despite the Super Eagles equalizing through a spot-kick through their skipper, the Black Stars players only had one job and that was to hold their nerves and contain the pressure from Nigeria in their backyard. The likes of Andy Yiadom, Kofi Kyereh and Elisha Owusu who came on as substitutes made the game more difficult for Nigeria to find spaces to operate.
After 90 minutes of action in Abuja, Otto Addo, whose coaching prowess was questioned and criticized by many has led the Black Stars to secure a fourth World Cup appearance. Was it shocking? Yes! He was disregarded, disrespected and despised but he has been able to achieve what every Ghanaian has been dreaming about.
Otto Addo's reading of the game is just something envious. Having watched the replay of the game, the Black Stars switched tactics from 3-5-1-1 to 3-6-1 in the second half of the game.
At 1-1, all Nigeria needed was a goal to knock Ghana out of the run-in for the World Cup, and 45 minutes plus extra time seemed more than enough time for Nigeria, who had created all the goal-scoring chances in the first half to score. The Black Stars in a 4-2-3-1 formation were very much being overrun by their neighbouring rivals and many Ghanaian fans wondered if the team could be hanged on in Abuja.
In the dressing room after the first half, however, there was a consensus, led by head coach, Otto Addo that the team direly needed to change their structure and that change in structure and tactics has propelled Black Stars to Qatar.
The football populace and Ghana as a whole have been energised by the Black Stars’ qualification to the FIFA World Cup. Having been to three World Cups since 2006, I expect us to be meticulous and diligent while learning from the various experiences especially the ignoble one, Brazil 2014. How riveting it would be if we bring back South Africa 2010 glory if not at best, surpassing the quarterfinal berth in that historic tournament.
President Akufo Addo, much to expectation, is urging the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to retain coach Otto Addo and the technical team for the World Cup. These are decisions right on the lap of the GFA, tough decisions that could make or unmake us at the World Cup and other competitions. There’s no guarantee but the country’s interest must be paramount at every step of decision-making in our plans if we’re to make a meaningful impact. Even if we don’t excel but the good effort is seen, that may be appreciated as we have presently done for Otto Addo ensemble.
Otto Addo, his support staff, the players and all who worked for our qualification deserve praise. They have made us proud by putting up tactics together in less than two weeks to end Nigeria's hopes of playing in the World Cup. We have to take pride in the fact that, despite our football’s fundamental problems with pitches, refereeing, hooliganism, financing, etc., we have been able to grab World Cup spots – displacing some of the best teams on the continent since 2006.
As I have already engaged friends and colleagues on social media as to whether Otto Addo should stay or not, again, I insist that for a young trainer, who played in the 2006 World Cup in Germany to be able to put together such a young team in than a month and has been able to propel perhaps a deteriorated team to return to the World Cup, Otto Addo’s name will forever remain in the history books forever and that is why he must he stay and be around the national team.
With Ghana now set to contest with Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea in Group H, it will be imperative for Otto Addo and his technical team to be maintained for the Mundial in Qatar.
He is one of our own. He has proven he is competent for the job. Otto Addo, thank you for turning water into wine in our time.
Let the applause begin for this miracle!
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Facebook: Samuel Ekow Amoasi Appiah