The Black Stars seem pressured to break the 35-year trophy drought as they move to Gabon to start yet another campaign to position the team among the super powers of the continent.
Gradually, Ghana’s huge image seem to be dwindling following their uninspiring performance during the 2016 games which has seen them dipped on the FIFA ranking to one of their worst ever.
Their campaign to Gabon started on a bright note with a resounding thrashing of Mauritius in 7-1 win at Kumasi. Then the team moved to beat Rwanda 1-0 in Kigali and dissipated Mozambique 3-1 in Accra.When the Stars seemed to be cruising smoothly to Gabon, Mozambique held them to a goalless draw game in Maputo before they bounced back to beat Mauritius 2-0 in Port Louis to seal qualification with a game to spare.
Their last game against Rwanda was reduced to mere formality as the team attached little seriousness to the game which ended 1-1 in Accra.
Poor FIFA ranking
The players would wish the memories of last year would quickly fade into oblivion, considering their performance both on the FIFA and CAF rankings.
They began the year on the 33rd position in the world and third on the continent, before dropping to the 41st and fourth the following month due to lack of international competitions.
By mid-year, the team gained back some points to finish the month of June on 37th and third positions on the globe and continent, respectively.
But their poor performance in both the World Cup and Africa Cup qualifiers towards the end of the year saw Avram Grant’s side recording one of their worse rankings both on the globe and the continent. The team finished the year as ninth best in Africa and 53rd in the world.
Upon assumption of office in January 2016, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Nii Lante Vanderpuye, was ruthless in his resolve to protect the public purse from what he perceived to be a cabal of corrupt ‘mafias’ of the Ghana Football Association who were milking the state to enrich themselves.
It started when the minister was said to have side-stepped any engagement from the FA to negotiate for a slash in the bonuses of the Black Stars players.
Subsequently, he meticulously scrutinised budgets from the football governing body and reluctantly approved or sometimes disapproved based on what he described as a bloated budget.
Nii Lante’s attempt to sanitise what many perceived to be a corrupt FA did not go down well with sections of the public, media and the FA.
His action was met with divided opinions, with either resistance or support from sections of the public and the media.
While his supporters praised him for being tough on the FA to stop the abuse of power and wanton dissipation of public funds, his critics believed he was treading on terrains that stretch beyond his remits and needed to tone down.
This disagreement degenerated into serious personality feud between the FA president, Kwesi Nyantakyi, and Nii Lante Vanderpuye, both of whom occasionally threw jabs at each other.
The situation even got out of hand when the minister refused to buy air tickets for the Black Stars players to fly down to honour their last AFCON qualifier match against Rwanda.
In his defence, Nii Lante argued that the team had already qualified for the competition and the outcome of that match was insignificant, therefore, Coach Avram Grant should fall on the local players to save the country some money.
That was not well received by the FA and it took the generosity of deputy skipper Andre Ayew and some other players to purchase tickets for the players to travel down to honour the final game.
Albeit the disagreement, they both tried to work together to ensure the Stars booked a ticket to the next AFCON competition.
Avram Grant continuous absence
One of the FA’s major concerns about Coach Avram Grant was his persistent absence from his duty post.
Despite being tasked to monitor local players and help in the upgrade of the skill of local coaches, the Israeli manager rarely spends time in the country.
He has often damned the consequences and vacated his duty post on the guise of going to monitor players abroad only to be seen working as a pundit for an international television network.
That behaviour angered the FA who had to summon him back to the country to take up his responsibilities.
World Cup qualifier
Ghana’s dreams of a fourth consecutive World Cup appeared to have been crashed as their faulty start to the campaign to Russia 2018 Mondial seemed to continue with each game.
That was the feeling of the public following a pedestrian game in the opening match which saw them draw goalless against the Cranes of Uganda in what most pundits had predicted a walk over for the Black Stars.
Afterwards, expectation was high among many Ghanaians in their second game against the Pharaohs of Egypt. And with the Stars’ 6-1 victory from their previous qualifier over the Pharaohs still fresh in the memory of many Ghanaians, many were optimistic the Stars could revive their World Cup hope with another victory.
Unfortunately, that hope was doused with 0-2 loss to the Egyptians.
After a solemn reflection, and with another World Cup participation for the Black Stars looming, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari (‘bad boys’ of the team) decided to eat humble pie by apologising for their misdemeanor that brought disgrace to the country during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
For Kevin-Prince, although he is not particularly aware of why he was dismissed from the national team, he would fancy a return to the national team.
But Muntari showed remorse and asked Ghanaians to forgive him for his conduct at the World Cup that brought the name of the country into disrepute.
2016 will also go down as the year that saw many of the Black Stars players going back and forth the treatment room for recovery from various injuries.
Deputy skipper Andre Ayew was out for two months just after his first game for new club, West Ham United. Captain Asamoah Gyan was equally in and out of the treatment room and had to miss a couple of the Black Stars qualifiers.
Kwadwo Asamoah is still struggling to be fully fit after spending most part of 2016 in the treatment room. Abdul Majeed Waris also had a few injury concerns.