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20.03.2007 Football News

Austria, another test for Stars

By gfa
Austria, another test for Stars
MAR 20, 2007 FOOTBALL NEWS

Austria game should be just another day at the office for the Black Stars.

Claude Le Roy has been at a loss as to why this whole nation is hooked on the Ghana-Brazil game while ignoring the fact that the Black Stars must before playing the five time world champions there is a deal against Austria on Saturday.

That Austria game is in the estimation of Le Roy as important as the one against Brazil. As far as preparing for the 2008 Nations Cup is concerned, Le Roy says this is vital.

Le Roy is unhappy about what he calls the over emphasis on the Brazil game for a number of reasons.

First is the fact the Stars might be caught out by the Euro 2008 co-host and derail the nation in its onward march to history at the 2008 nations cup.

"There is always the tendency of an element of surprise somewhere when attention is shifted like now.

"What we all must recognize is that the game against Austria is equally crucial and we cannot afford to treat it with near contempt when the stakes are that high".

Those stakes, Le Roy says will allow him to gauge very well how prepared his team is to play every three days and cope with the pressure that that level of football presents.

I consider it to be among the series of tests I'm trying to put the players through in search of that readiness to play every three days when the Nations Cup begins January 20, 2008".

The truth of the matter is that every friendly that the Stars play between now and the Nations Cup is fundamental to how well they will cope in 2008.

And since the world cup that has been pretty clear. Against Togo a few months after the world cup, it was to test whether the players had overcome their world cup hangover. Against South Korea and Japan, it re-affirmed how well this side was getting.

It may have been a good money spinning move for the Ghana Football Association but it was also for new coach Claude Le Roy an opportunity to get to know his players and meet up with them for the first time.

It was familiarity time. Now when the Stars step out, most people want to see tangible signs of progress. The mauling of Nigeria offered hope to many Ghanaians. It painted the picture of a side that could raise their game when the stakes are high and the opposition is quality.

And while Austria do not fall in the same cateogory of opponents who can fire up the instincts in the Ghanaians the way the Nigerians do, there is no denying this will be another of those games to test the preparedness of the Nation.

But should the Frenchman be really worried about why we are all into this Brazil game rather than the Austria one. It is understandable, isn't it? Brazil boast all the big names. It will be a meeting between Ghana and the cream of footballers in the world. Ronaldinho, Kaka, Gilberto Silva, Robinho and the rest.

Everywhere they go thousands queue to see them play. They have filled the Emirates Stadium which takes 70,000 people in London. At the Rasunda in Solna you will expect that many neutrals and football fans will flock there to see them.

Plus of course they are the ultimate football test. For instance if the Stars pass this test then belief will grow, respect will soar and the GFA negotiators will use that triumph to drive up appearance fees and insist this nation is massive in football terms.

So it is easy to see why the Dannish Embassy in Accra has become a beehive of activity of late with journalists and football fans queing up for a pass to Sweden. There wasn't too much hint of that when the destination was just Austria.

That might be the wrong attitude but football is driven by the big boys and the big Stars which means next Tuesday will always have more significance than the date against Austria on Friday.

First though Ghana must make sure that they will go into the game against the Brazilians with their unbeaten run after the world cup still intact.

There are no big names from the Austria game to hype up the game with but at home and in preparation for Euro 2008, they are always likely to be a tough test for the Stars.

They made hard work of their last friendly game against Malta a day after Ghana had mauled Nigeria. The Austrians needed a deflected goal to draw 1-1 against one of Europe's least fancied teams.

It drew criticisms but before then they had gone three games and won all against

That should suggest to the Stars that while this will not be a game that occupies Ghanaians to crazy heights, it will still be an important test of their ability to up their game and deliver no matter the opposition. And that is an important quality for a side seeking to win Africa¡¦s top football prize in just under a year.

Le Roy is likely to stick to his usual squad. Richard Kingston has the post to himself but Le Roy will have decisions to make about who plays at right back. John Paintsil has struggled to hold down a regular place at West Ham but Hans Sarpei has not been a regular at Wolfsburg either.

Both players could get into the starting eleven though with Sarpei shifted to the left. Shila Alhassan and John Mensah have played so well as a central defensive unit there is very little reason to believe that will change against the Austrians while the midfield wil be dominated by the usual suspects: Michael Esien, Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari and Laryea Kingston.

Asamoah Gyan has one of the places available for strikers tied down with Junior Agogo likely to get the other. As the game wears on though you can expect to see the likes of Derek Boateng and Peter Ofori Quaye handed the opportunity to stake a claim for themselves.

It might not be the reverting stuff that the Nigeria game was but this will be another important step towards finding that all rounded team. It should be another fine day at the office for the Stars. Anything less than that will not be disaster but no one wants that either.

NB: This article was first published in the GAMES newspaper. Out every Tuesday.

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