This afternoon, Ghana’s Black Stars play host to the Red Devils of Congo in the first of two-leg World Cup group qualifiers whose results will determine whether or not Ghana will be present at next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Since the Stars’ maiden World Cup appearance in 2006, never has their qualifying campaign looked so bleak after the Avram Grant-led team made a poor start to their campaign, with the team losing to Egypt away and drawing at home to Uganda.
Despite lying third in Group E behind Uganda and Egypt, Kwasi Appiah and his charges are hopeful of turning the campaign around with victory against the Congolese in Kumasi today, and an away victory in Brazzaville which can only keep them in contention academically.
As deputy captain Andre Ayew told the media after the team’s training in Kumasi last Wednesday, the Stars have no other choice but to win their remaining matches and hope for a bad result by Egypt. But it does not look that simple, especially with the Egyptians playing host to the Cranes who won 1-0 in Kampala yesterday.
Ayew’s comment must be backed by action and not mere rhetoric. In fact, Skipper Asamoah Gyan and his teammates must prove on the field that they really have a strong desire to play in football’s biggest global gathering in Russia next year by winning their remaining matches in the qualifiers.
Beyond a strong fighting spirit and form expected of the players, Appiah’s technical acumen will be a critical determinant of how Ghana’s campaign will shape up in the face of strong competition by Uganda and Egypt.
In a way, Appiah cannot be held responsible for Ghana’s faulty start under his predecessor, but a lot would depend on his ability to inspire his charges to believe in themselves and take the remaining games to their opponents.
In fact, a coach’s input in such situations is very critical, as former Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic proved in 2005. The Serbian took over when all seemed lost after the Stars bungled their campaign with a spiritless scoreless draw against DR Congo in Kumasi which saw Ghana slipping to the third position in the group.
However, the Serbian managed to instil discipline in the team, and backed by improved preparation, the Stars turned their campaign around and qualified ahead of South Africa and DR Congo.
The dynamics may not be the same this time. The Stars are not in the best of form and public support and confidence in the team is low, a situation which puts more pressure on the team leaders Gyan and Ayew, who themselves are not in the best of form lately, to lead the assault on Congo and go all out just as was done in 2005.
With Ghana’s poor showing at the last Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, a turnaround in the World Cup qualifiers is the only way to restore the Stars’ sinking glory and win back public and corporate support.