What has always been viewed as an injustice in the eyes of African football observers could well be righted with the conclusion of the Germany 2006 qualifying campaign. For on 8 October, Ghana look set to return from the Cape Verde Islands euphoric at having secured a place at their first-ever FIFA World Cup™ finals.
Football experts, not to mention the bookmakers, have been at a loss to explain the continued absence from the world showpiece of this English-speaking west African nation that so dominated football on the continent during the 1970s and 1980s, winning the CAF African Cup of Nations four times and numerous trophies in the continental club competitions. Frequent finalists and winners of world tournaments at youth level, the senior side has never quite been able to clinch a ticket to the great global gathering.
As a result, the world stage has been deprived of performances by a long list of talented players, including Abedi Pele, Anthony Yeboah, Opoku Nti, Abdul Razak and Charles Akonor. Always regarded as favourites in the preliminary competition, the team dubbed the 'Brazilians of Africa' have never quite managed to live up to expectations. But this looks like the year when they finally put things right, for where their prestigious predecessors have failed, Michael Essien and Co look destined to succeed.
Head-to-head advantage Group 2 leaders in the African Zone with 18 points, Ghana have a clear lead over Congo DR and South Africa that puts them firmly in the driving seat en route to Germany. That they are in this comfortable position is mainly down to their surprise 2-0 victory over the South Africans at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 18 June.
The FIFA regulations for these qualifiers, which give the advantage to the side with the best record in the meetings between teams tied on points, provide Ghana with added hope of taking part in their first FIFA World Cup. For the west Africans have a good record against their closest pursuers in the group, having secured a scoreless draw at home to second-placed Congo DR and obtained a 1-1 draw in Kinshasa.
In addition, Ratomir Dujkovic's team have outclassed South Africa on two occasions (3-0 at home in Accra and 2-0 away). Consequently, Bafana Bafana will still be eliminated even if they finish on the same number of points as the Black Stars. With a three-point lead over their two closest rivals, who face each other on the final day, plus a good record in the head-to-head encounters, Ghana are almost certain of setting foot on German soil next June. An unlikely scenario It is in the unlikely location of Praia on the Cape Verde Islands that the Ghanaians should, on the evening of 8 October, experience the honour and privilege of celebrating their first–ever qualification for a FIFA World Cup. Unless, that is, their nightmare scenario of a heavy Congolese victory combined with a convincing Cape Verde win transpires to thwart them once again. (Ghana currently have a goal difference of plus nine to Congo DR's plus four.)
To reach this point of being a whisker away from qualification, they have notched up five victories (two against South Africa and one apiece against Cape Verde, Burkina Faso and Uganda) and three draws, while suffering just a single defeat.
If, as expected, Ghana confirm their place in Germany, their Serbian coach Dujkovic will have succeeded where numerous technicians have failed before him. The irony of this situation would not be lost on the Ghanaian public, as they would be elevating to hero status a man who was previously the architect of one of their most bitter disappointments. For in 2003, when Rwanda barred the Black Stars' way to the Nations Cup, the opposition were managed by none other than Dujkovic.