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Why Ghana must win AFCON 2019

BY: Ebenezer Nene Korley Azu-Mate
Line-up of the Black Stars
Line-up of the Black Stars

The Black Stars of Ghana once again are in another Afican Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament as the four-time champions look forward to their first title since 1982. At least, a 37-year wait for this prestigious trophy looks achievable this year.

Ghana has some good advantage among the teams participating in this Afcon given the somewhat underdogs status they are accorded in spite of their pedigree and quality.

Looking at the other big guns like Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria, Tunisia and Cameroun, the Black Stars have a better cohesion and experience among the squad, the core of the team having been around for sometime.

Most of Ghana’s squad have played together in four different tournaments and now know the strengths and weaknesses of one another.

The likes of Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew played at Afcon 2008 in Ghana and since then the duo have played in every other competition together.

Playmaker Kwadwo Asamoah emerged in 2010 at the World Cup in South Africa and although he took a break from international football he has played alongside majority of the team. Others like Christian Atsu, John Boye, Jordan Ayew have had four tournaments together, including their collective appearance at the 2014 World Cup.

The relatively new faces have at least played in the various qualifiers and friendlies with the old teammates.

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Ghana has been at the last four Afcon tournaments with impressive showing. Indeed, since 2008, Ghana has always reached at least the last four - the semi-finals - and this could be the time to lay hands on the ultimate.

The great Samuel Eto'o was in Ghana some years back and had one simple question for former President of the Ghana Football Association, Mr Kwesi Nyantakyi, during an interaction with the press. He asked: "How does Ghana always get into the last four of every Nations Cup since 2008?" He wanted to know the secret.

It looks quite interesting that Ghana’s chances are not because of any external ‘enhancements’. Senegal, for instance, has had players switching nationality from France to Senegal over the years when the players realise they had very low chances of representing France.

Players like Sabaly, Kalidou Koulibaly, Niang switched from France to Senegal in 2015 just as Keita Balde who is Spanish by birth but has switched to Senegal recently.

Senegal’s Afcon performances have not been too impressive over the years, but now with their golden generation of talent led by the tireless Sadio Mane, they look to win the country’s first Afcon title.

The Terranga Lions do not look to have too much of tournament experience as a group, and it could be their weakness. What they have is the individual collection of players, and it may take more tourneys for them to gel.

Côte d'Ivoire, the 1992 and 2015 champions, has always been blessed with talent over the years, and the current squad appears to be even better than the previous years, in my opinion. The team has players who are leaders at their various teams in Europe and elsewhere.

Wilfried Zaha, Cornet, Nicholas Pepe, Jean Michael Seri, Kessie and others are the rising stars of their generation.

Nicholas Pepe is being pursued by Barcelona and Liverpool in the current transfer window and is also a top priority for most top European clubs after he led Lille of France to the second position in this year’s Ligue 1, chalking up a famous 5-1 win at home over PSG in the process.

These are great players, but as a team they also have the same problem as Senegal.

These are individual players who will want to do it all on their own if they have the ball. Zaha, for instance, has shown great quality at club level in England, the country to whom he once pledged his international allegiance, and look to be in shape to atone for the almost anonymous Nations Cup debut he had in 2017 when he switched from England to Cote d’Ivoire.

At that tournament, his style was very European and failed to work against the more robust African players; he was hardly successful with his dribbling skills.

Most of their squad will be participating in their first Nations Cup tournament, and if they are to go far they will have to learn how to play as a team.

Egos may run through that beautiful assemblage, but they must be able to deal with it.

Morocco as well has more players switching from France and The Netherlands to play for their country of origin. Hakim Ziyech is their best player by far this season coming into this competition.

They showed at the 2018 World Cup how terryfing they could be after earning a famous 2-2 draw with 2010 world champions Spain, a game they should have won. Their European style does not ultimately favour them at the Nations Cup, and they have lost two friendly games going into the tournament, 1-0 to Burundi and 3-2 to Zambia.

But those were just friendly games so, as we say in Ghanaian parlance, let’s watch how they fare. Maybe Egypt 2019 will prove favourable to them this time around due to the North African atmosphere.

Algeria falls in similar category with Morocco, with the likes of Andy Delort of Montpellier switching from France to Algeria. He scored recently in their 3-2 win over Mali in Doha last Sunday.

Algerian players are easily frustrated when decisions do not go their way, and it tends to destroy their focus on the game.

They are blessed with loads of talents from all angles, but their European approach to an African tournament has not helped over the years.

Most of their national team selections overlook their locally based players, and the few of them in the team just warm the bench.

Our Black Stars should see themselves as favourites to this tournament and go in there with the mentality to win. In terms of experience and team cohesion the Stars have it more than any other team.

Ghanaians cannot brace themselves for a shocker, and the 37-year wait for this trophy must come to an end here in Egypt.
Captain Andre Ayew won the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, and he will look to lift another title with the senior side on a soil that evokes fond memroies for Ghanaians.

 The writer is a Level 300 student of the University of Professional Studies, Accra.