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09.02.2006 Sports News

Let’s retain Dujkovic

By Statesman

I still remember that Tuesday as if it is now. Two catastrophic mistakes against an average Zimbabwe side. The tears of Baba Armando Adamu and the drain on the faces of Ratomir Dujkovic and defender Samuel Osei Kuffour at the post match news conference and the morose faces of the over 200 Ghanaian fans who had set Egypt alight throughout the tournament with their colourful presence.

Egypt 2006 was supposed to be the crowning moment of what has been an eventful period for Ghana football. It was supposed to be the tournament where Ghana re-emphasised that despite several years of poor showing at Africa's premier sporting event, the Black Stars are still a force to reckon with. But instead it turned out into the tournament that proclaimed the recent success as a false dawn at least on the surface.

As one of Africa's three finalists that failed to make it past the first round stage, Ghana's failure has heightened fears that the continent could be heading for disgrace at the premier world event, the World Cup.

The Stars' unimpressive performance in Egypt is a big worry but offering too many excuses without trying to solve the problem is rather a defeatist stance. That is the position of Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic. Almost two hours after the defeat against Zimbabwe, he spoke at length about his pain at the loss but was defiant in insisting that Ghana would draw on the lessons of the tournament to perform better at the World Cup.

Just how that will happen is yet to be seen but before that opening game against Italy in Hanover, a lot is likely to happen in Ghana football that could greatly define the future of the Black Stars.

And there is nowhere that change could be more evident that in the coaching area. Dujkovic was untouchable sometime back. He was a bit of a national hero, the man who steered the Stars boat to the World Cup and then pocketed a cool $450,000 as a result.

Now he has become touchable, his name battered from Ismailia to Accra and his tactics and football smartness questioned in a manner that will greatly displease any professional.

His demand for respect and declaration that "I qualified Ghana for the World Cup so they have to be grateful" didn't seem to go down well with the ultra-proud Ghanaian football fans.

Now the Ghana Football Association will be required by the overwhelming view of public opinion to make a decision on the future of a man, who until recently, was full of praise.

After the game against Zimbabwe though, compliments were in short supply. There was certain unanimity among the entire Black Stars contingent from players to some officials that the team had been fraught with poor player selection throughout the tournament.

Dujkovic though argues that throughout the tournament, he had to deal with near impossible situations with his side consistently ravaged by injuries. Michael Essien sat out the competition in a move that has added to the growing discontent of his personality at home.

Sulley Muntari, often a stabilising influence in the Ghana midfield wasn't available and so was Asamoah Gyan whose goals were invaluable during the World Cup qualifiers.

The absence of those players drew sympathy from Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who always showed up in smart blue jeans with his traditional spectacles and notebook in hand to check on the Black Stars. The Italian suggested that judging the Black Stars on the evidence of the display in Egypt would! be wrong because of the absence of key players.

That line will be Doya's main line of defence as he prepares to battle allegations of poor tactics and ruining the football reputation of a proud nation.

He will point out quickly that in addition to losing those key players, he also had to use a half-fit Stephen Appiah in the game against Zimbabwe. The Tornado couldn't strike and couldn't use his right foot but stayed in the hope that he could perform some magic.

Matthew Amoah, whose brilliance was the key for Ghana in the game against Senegal, was also injured and Laryea Kingston unavailable after one of the most senseless red cards in Ghana football history.

Without six key players, the Black Stars were always going to travel. And that in many ways constitutes a powerful defence for the Serbian.

His insistence that he was hired to qualify Ghana for the World Cup makes little sense. Every football fan knew that World Cup qualification was going to be followed by a demand for success at the African level and the inability of Doya to grasp that could be his undoing. In the wake of such poor displays, a coach's selection can be ripped apart and that is exactly what has happened to our friend. His insistence on sticking to clearly average players like Haminu Dramani and callous decision to overlook such proven performers like Derek Boateng and Isaac Boakye has come back to haunt him.

With such mounting public pressure, the Ghana Football Association could pull the trigger and kill what looked like a promising relationship. It will be a sad end to a rocky love affair.

But after following Ghana football for a while I know what retaining the Serbian will do. It could lead to more discontent, many more players will grown unhappy and ! the Black Stars could grow further apart from Ghanaians whose affection has kept this team going.

The fear though is who steps in. With the World Cup to come in four months, there is not enough time to find one and rebuild confidence if we ask Dujkovic to pick up the luggage he says he had packed and leave for good. It doesn't sound like the smart option however.

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