With Euro 2004 currently underway in Portugal, the attention of the soccer world is focused on this event. Very little attention was paid to the draw for Olympic games soccer which took place last week. Ghana is placed in Group B together with Italy, Paraguay, and Japan. Undeniably this is a tough group. Italy is the reigning European Under 23 champions and if they take advantage of the inclusion of three over aged players rule, they will present a formidable challenge. Paraguay eliminated Brazil from the South American qualifying tournament and is definitely a strong side that cannot be under rated at all. The natural tendency on the part of many is to under rate Japan, but anyone who under rates Japan does so at his own risk, and Ghana cannot afford to play games with its chances. Japanese soccer has improved dramatically over the past decade since the launch of the J league (Japan professional soccer league in 1993).
Given the down ward slide of Ghana in recent years, one will probably write off Ghana. However, I think with serious preparation, and a determination to do better than the 1992 bronze medal winning performance , we can go places. In the last three Olympic games soccer tournament, an African country has won a medal with the last two being gold medals. Following Ghana's bronze medal in Barcelona 1992, Nigeria won gold in Atlanta 1996, and Cameroon followed that with the gold in Sydney 2000. This year in Athens, the world and Africa will be missing both Nigeria and Cameroon, so the onus is on Ghana which is making a comeback to the Olympic soccer competition after missing out in both Atlanta and Sydney. Ghana must shine in Athens 2004 to follow the footsteps of both Nigeria and Cameroon.
We can only do that with serious preparation, good support from the GFA and the government, and the right attitude on the part of the players and the coaching staff. Already Japan and I am pretty sure Italy and Paraguay are already in serious preparation mood. The Japanese team has been in training camp for a long time now, they have completed an European tour, and even played in the Olympic stadium in Greece. Just a couple of weeks ago, they played Mali in a tune up game in Sapporo, and they have another game lined up against Tunisia. After that they will play Argentina or Brazil. They have quite a strong side that can run all 90 minutes. They admit they have been drawn into a tough group, and at least they need to draw two games and win one in order to have a chance of advancing. Their best chance according to them is against Ghana on August 18, 2004. Should we sit back and allow Japan to beat us? Japan has never beaten Ghana at any of the FIFA age group competitions and please let no one make Athens 2004 the first for them.
Lack of planning and adequate preparation have been the main problems plaguing Ghana soccer. Just last week this attitude cost us the game against Burkina Faso. So when shall we learn from our mistakes? Since Ghana has failed to qualify for any international soccer competition for a long time now, we need to treat this one as special in our preparation. The team has to move to camp immediately ( the Olympic games is less than six weeks away), work on swift passes, physical training to build up stamina and power, target shooting, and plug all the loopholes in the defence. Needless to say, we need to take advantage of the three over aged players rule ( I recommend Stephen Appiah, Samuel Kuffour (if he is fit), and one sharp shooter, a very good striker) . If we plan well we can make Ghana and Africa proud but if we don't as has always been the case, we will only have ourselves to blame. The rest of Africa looks up to Ghana to make African soccer proud this summer and we cannot afford to fail. The author is a political and social analyst and also a corporate trainer based in Tokyo, Japan. Your comments are welcomed. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.