Once again the World Cup is at the corner. Ghana has for the first time qualified and has been paired with Italy for its first match. This is a dream come through for us all. While pundits and bookmakers are still at it with all sorts of analysis, strategies and predictions, I want to call attention to what I have observed about this tournament – the nature of refereeing of matches involving African teams – awam (they eat/chop awam).
Two matches are of importance here:
(i) 1990 – Cameroon versus England, quarter finals;
(ii) 1994 – Nigeria against Italy – round two. In these two matches one could see a determined effort on the side of the referees to deny the Africans victory and a consistent effort to make sure they lost. A questionable penalty was awarded against Cameroon and any attempt they made towards the opponents goal was ruled either offside or a foul play. The Cameroonians became frustrated and lost the game. The irony was that the same referee handled the final match between Germany and Argentina. The Nigerians also suffered a similar fate. The Italians brought down their goal merchant in the box so glaringly that every body but the referee thought it was a penalty for the Nigerians. Nothing happened.
In Japan/Korea '02 Italy lost its quarterfinal match against South Korea. The Italians became so bitter that they threatened court action against Fifa. Their problem was that the referee cheated them. Fifa acknowledged that it had a problem on its hand, held a crisis management meeting and resolved to address the issue.
Whether this issue had been resolved or not is yet to be seen. However, officiating at other Fifa organized games since then cast doubt on this matter being resolved. One is reminded of Coach Afranie's “mo ntwitwa won” episode at the world youth cup final involving Ghana and Argentina where the referee's decisions were more than fair. In another Youth World Cup final match between Nigeria and Argentina the referee made sure Argentina won the cup. The commentators went on record that the referee would not give the Nigerians a break. In the 2005 under-17 world cup, Ghana drew with Peru because the referee sent out three of our players under suspicious circumstances.
As we prepare for the big stage, the technical team should be ready to handle every problem including bias refereeing. Two matches won by a Ghanaian team (Kumasi Asante Kotoko) and Ghana (Black Stars) will help. In 1971 Kotoko won the African Cup for the first time in a match against Englebert of Zaire (now DR Congo). The referee made every effort to prevent Kotoko from scoring. Just under five minutes to full time he whistled for a “special” penalty against Kotoko. As Kotoko protested goalkeeper Robert Mensah picked the ball, rolled it up and walked with it to the sport and got ready for the kick. The resultant kick missed its target. Robert hurriedly went for the ball and kicked it into the center. Abukari of “goal na mafefe” fame got the ball, did not dribble and shot straight towards goal. The goalkeeper had moved forward, the ball got behind him and into the net. There was nothing the referee could do. He had no option but to reluctantly whistle for goal. This led to President Mobutu's popular statement – it is because of your stupidity that the cup is going to Ghana. The second game was an African Nations' Cup semi-final match, between Ghana and Tunisia, played in Accra in 1978. This had nothing to do with officiating but more to do with style and strategy. The Tunisians had exhibited brilliance, good ball control, speed and team work that all who watched them thought they would win the cup. Their match against Morocco in Kumasi put fear in almost everybody. That match, to me, is classic in the annals of the tournament. I later learnt that the two countries are “bitter enemies” and that any match between them is like a war. The Ghanaian technical team studied their game plan and changed strategy when the y met in the semi-finals. They did not come with any known pattern but rather played “pim pim”, teacher Appiah's type of game – bo no atuans, bo no ntem kom. It worked. The Tunisians were disorganized. They could not settle into their rhythm and Razak scored his Golden Goal.
In these two instances one thing is very clear – bo no atuans. (Play it once). If we came into a game of bad officiating our tactics should be that of frustrating the official himself. We should not create a situation where the referee would have the chance to make his stupid decisions. Sharp shooters should be brought in to shoot from all angles whereby when we scored a goal the bad referee would have no option but to whistle for it. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.