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19.06.2004 Football News

Stars On Image And World Cup Redemption Mission Against Bafana

By Michael Oti Adjei for Chronicle
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There are times when it is so easy for journalists to throw away the sacrosanct values of objectivity and impartiality. This Sunday will be one of them.

Ghana's world cup qualifiers got off to another bad start in Ouagadougou two weeks ago but as the Black Stars prepare to face South Africa in the second round of qualifying matches, there will be more than three cup qualifying points at stake.

It is a nation's pride, its past and future at stake. It is a moment too for Ghana toto put the ghost of Bafana Bafana behind them.

And in these times, trying to be objective is a hard job even though over the next few paragraphs I will try.

From somewhere late last year when the draw for the world cup qualifiers was made, Ghana versus South Africa in Kumasi is all we have waited for. Many sports analysts have said group two which also includes Congo DR, Cape Verde and Burkina Faso will be a straight fight between Ghana and South Africa and that one of Africa's representative at the 2006 world cup will definitely come from one of these two countries.

That verdict hasn't changed even after that bad defeatto Ghana in Burkina Faso two weeks ago. Mamadou Zongo's goal marked another poor start by the Black Stars in the qualifying campaign but it has not altered the thinking of many that the Black Stars will give Bafana Bafana a fight for the world cup ticket that will go straight down to the wire.

For Ghana, the Bafana match will be a perfect opportunity to right a few wrongs. Since South Africa's re-admission into the international sporting scene, they have always found a wayto inflict pain on Ghana on the football field. It is the reason why staying objective on Sunday will be difficult.

I still vividly remember the first major defeat in 1996 when that impressive South Africa team coached by local Clive Baker went all the way to win the Nations Cup in only their first appearance.

In the semi-final game, they swept aside a Black Stars lacking the inspiration of Abedi Pele to book a final date with Tunisia. It was a comprehensive victory by the South Africans but one that might not have been had it not been for that ridiculous decision by Egyptian referee Gamel El Ghandour to rule out Ablade Kumah's equaliser. After that, a demoralised Stars were swept aside with two goals from Shaun Bartllet.

Bartlet played assassin again in the Nations Cup four years after ripping Ghana apart in Johannesburg but this time at the Kumasi Stadium and in a different manner.

He swung in the cross, which Siyabonga Nomvete headed in to give Bafana victory in the quarter finals of the 2000 Nations Cup which Ghana co-hosted with Nigeria.

Those defeats have left a scar on the image of a country, which still considers itself a big time player in the African game.

But that big time image has not reflected in the performance of the team over the last few years. No Nations Cup win since 1982, no appearance at the 2004 Nations Cup neither has there been a world cup appearance.

South Africa has been there twice since returning to the international fold in 1994.

They want to be there a third time but Ghana's players say they won't let that happen.

The good vibe though did not come on the pitch in Ouagadougou. The Stars lost yet again on day one but unlike previous years, the loss has not triggered off the poor reaction that came with previous defeats.

Mariano Barreto has kept faith with a great number of the players who were on display in Ouagadougou even though Derek Boateng and Anthony Obodai have been axed from the team.

In their place have come two unknowns from Italy's Fiorentina and another from Bulgaria as Barreto desperately searches for strikers to beat Bafana.

Barreto was furious in the run up to the Burkina game, slamming preparations he called laughable. In the end, the 0-1 loss came as no surprise to him.

This time, he has spoken of a desire to break the Bafana jinx even if it takes a "half goal". Barreto is well placed to talk the way he does.

He has every reason to be optimistic. He was the man in charge when Ghana recorded its first win at international level over South African in Johannesburg.

That 2-1 win secured by two goals from Razak Pimpong in the Olympic qualifier this year was important in that it not only smoothened the path to the Athens Olympics but also helped shatter the myth of South Africa over Ghana.

Many believe he could shatter the myth by keeping things simple and keeping to the players who can do the job.

And that category of players does not include the likes of Ablade Morgan and Lawrence Adjei who Barreto apparently loves so much.

It surely includes Charles Taylor who has earned a right to be in any selection of players called Ghana's best.

That he was absent in the Burkina game has been pointed out as a mistake. Many are praying Barreto does not make the same mistake twice.

A win on Sunday is even more imperative than it was at the Olympics. Three points on Sunday will level the field and bring us at equal pegging with the side considered our main competitors i.e South Africa.

It will also for once put the pain of playing second fiddle to a side that has caused Ghana pain in major competitions when it shouldn't have happened.

I would imagine that the likes Samuel Osei Kufuor and Samuel Osei Kufuor would be really fired up for Sunday's game.

The two alongside Richard Kingston were part of the Stars side that lost t Bafana in Kumasi four years ago and will be so glad to exact their own piece of revenge.

It doesn't' make sense gloating over the misfortune of your opponents but if you are a Ghanaian, there is no reason to be sad either that South Africa will be here without Shaun Bartlett and Benni MacCarthy for the game on Sunday.

McCarthy was superb for FC Porto in the champions league against Manchester United whilst Bartlet has caused Ghana problems every time he has lined up against the Black Stars.

But there will be Siyabonga Nomvete, that speed star who beat Sam Johnson to the header to score the winner at the same venue four years ago and Suibusozo Zuma.

There is even the new captain Mabizele from Tottenham Hotspurs as well as old horse Mark Fish who is making a return to the side.

They are all good players but there is no reason to hold them in awe. Nomvete has failed to cut it Udinese, the same side Sule Muntari plays for and whose first team Asamoah Gyan has already broken into.

Zuma is huge in South Africa but he still plies his trade in Denmark, not your best idea of a league for a super star, which he is in South Africa.

Glance across to the Ghana team. Samuel Osei Kufuor, Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien are all genuine big names. But as we've discovered in the past so many times, they have woefully failed to transform their individual brilliance into a great team.

Sunday will thus be a test for their claim to greatness but more importantly a litmus test for their professed lovefor the nation Ghana.

If they can harness their undoubted individual qualities, there is no way Bafana should leave Kumasi with a point.