Black Stars our pride

BY: Daily Graphic
File photo: Black Stars
File photo: Black Stars

This afternoon, Ghanaians will be hoping and praying that the Black Stars will rise to the occasion when they play against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the return fixture of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying playoffs at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium in Abuja, Nigeria.

Clashes between the two sides at any level are always fiercely contested and today’s match will be, perhaps, the most intense of matches between the two sides because the stakes are very high, with one of Africa’s five World Cup slots at stake.

Last Friday’s first leg match in Kumasi may not have gone according to the script because of the inability of the Black Stars exploit their home advantage within the charged atmosphere at the Baba Yara Stadium. Nonetheless, the performance of the team in the scoreless stalemate against a star-studded Nigerian side was very satisfying for most Ghanaians and gave a ray of hope that the team would manage to rise to the occasion in tomorrow’s fixture.

The Black Stars had, in years past, served as the heartbeat of Ghanaians, a source of social cohesion, national pride and joy when society is forlorn, and it is for that reason governments have, over the years, spared no expense to ensure the team excels at international tournaments. So much emotion is invested in the team that when they underperform in competitions, amid high expectations, such as Ghana’s abysmal performance at the recent Africa Cup of Nations in

Cameroun, some Ghanaians, in their disappointment, turn against the team.

Anger and nonchalance could best describe the relationship between Ghanaians and the national team after their disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil, as some players allegedly led a mutiny until the government sent a plane load of money to the team to continue with the tournament.

A similar sour relationship ensued after the abysmal AFCON performance in Cameroun, but after sober reflection, and under a new technical direction, a new atmosphere is beginning to show

The massive attendance at the first leg clash last Friday, as well as the rare sight of many Members of Parliament breaking their strict dress code to conduct business in the chamber in the national team jersey, was a clear demonstration that Ghanaians still held the team close to their hearts and were ready to rally behind them to win in Abuja to qualify for the World Cup and also become very competitive again.

The current Black Stars are a side in transition, with a number of young players, including Felix Afena-Gyan and Belgium-born Denis Odoi, who made their first appearance for Ghana. Their performances in the first leg match were very inspiring, as the team played with a lot of passion and fought for every ball throughout the match in a manner not witnessed in a long while -- a sharp contrast to the insipid display at the AFCON.

Today’s task of beating the Super Eagles on home soil and booking a place at the World Cup in Qatar may look daunting but achievable, even though the Nigerians are going to every length to ensure they win the match at all cost, including filling the 60,000-capacity stadium to create an intimidating atmosphere for the Black Stars.

It is very heart-warming that the Black Stars are not oblivious of the potentially hostile environment in which they will be chasing a fourth World cup appearance and have resolved to put up the fight of their lives to achieve the national goal.

Meanwhile, they must rest assured that beyond their compatriots in Nigeria who are being mobilised by the Ghana High Commission there to cheer them at the stadium today, Ghanaians all over the world are solidly behind them in spirit to make the nation proud.

Although their main task has not been achieved yet, caretaker coach Otto Addo and his key technical assistants, comprising George Boateng, Mas-Ud Dramani and the technical advisor Chris Houghton, deserve the plaudits for the new direction and sense of pride the players are attaching to their national assignments.

This is the new Black Stars Ghanaians want to see again competing strongly in Africa and with the world’s best sides.