Ghana’s CAF U-23 AFCON fiasco: Indiscipline, poor quality cost Black Meteors
Ibrahim Tanko, coach of Ghana's U-23 national team, the Black Meteors, faced numerous challenges as he guided a squad that often missed key players due to their involvement with the senior national team, the Black Stars.
The uncertainty surrounding player availability until the last minute before important matches and tournaments further compounded Tanko's woes at the CAF U-23 AFCON in Morocco.
Tanko finally poured out his frustration following the Black Meteors' elimination from the CAF U-23 AFCON after a 1-1 draw against Guinea's Young Syli National last week.
It was evident that Tanko would have preferred to have access to proven game-winners at the senior level such as Kudus Mohammed, Kamaldeen Sulemana and Ransford-Yeboah Konigsorffer. However, the late inclusion of FC Nordsjaelland winger Ernest Appiah Nuamah also posed its own challenges for the team.
The team's performance at the tournament fell short of expectations, securing only one victory, one draw and suffering a 1-5 humiliation at the hands of the host nation, Morocco. That result ultimately prevented their progression due to an inferior goal difference.
Although circumstances prevented Tanko from calling up the best U-23 Ghanaian talent from across the globe, his comments about Ghana not having the most talented players at the tournament reflected his frustration with the limitations in player selection. Nonetheless, as the coach, he had to bear the responsibility for the team’s performance.
The limited game time for some star players affected the team's attacking prowess. Players such as Abdul Fatawu Issahaku and Daniel Afriyie Barnieh, who had minimal playing time at their clubs, struggled to perform at their best.
CFR Cluj's Emmanuel Yeboah ended up as a standout performer, scoring three goals and providing an assist, but his efforts alone could not address the Meteors’ goal scoring bane.
Ghana's hopes were further dashed when Yeboah was forced off the field with an injury during the crucial match against Guinea.
The defensive and midfield departments also faced significant challenges throughout the tournament, conceding eight goals in just 270 minutes of play. Goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim, who was part of Ghana's 2022 World Cup squad, struggled to effectively organise his defence, leading to avoidable goals. The defensive line-up as a whole, including Terry Yegbe, David Oppong Afranie, and Edmund Arko-Mensah, found it difficult to cope with the demands of the tournament.
Coach Tanko was compelled to experiment with various midfield combinations to improve ball possession but still could not find a solution. For instance, the Meteors were outplayed in matches against Morocco and Guinea, clearly exposing the team’s deficiency in midfield.
While it may seem easy for the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to consider sacking Tanko, that might still not address the underlying issues of the Black Meteors. Tanko's failure to qualify for the Olympic Games for the second time raises concerns, but the solution lies in a mix of committed, active and talented players willing to represent Ghana at the U-23 level, alongside a consistent core group available for the qualifiers.
Player indiscipline was also a major concern in camp. Tanko's revelation that Nuamah wanted to leave camp due to injury after Ghana's 1-5 defeat to Morocco only to declare himself fit two hours before the crucial match against Guinea, raised questions about his management of the team behind the scenes.
That incident exposed the coach’s inability to control the players, leaving many to challenge his decision to field an injured player who had not trained over players who were waiting for an opportunity at the bench.
Contrary to popular belief, sending a young player home from a tournament does not signify the end of their national team career. Many would recall that Sulley Muntari, a former Inter Milan star and fan favourite for the Black Stars, was dismissed from the Black Meteors camp by Mariano Barreto for indiscipline ahead of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens and still went on to have a stellar career.
Furthermore, the lack of defensive contribution from several attackers, including Barnieh and Fatawu, was another missing link in the team, leading to the eight goals Ghana conceded at the tournament.
Outstanding qualification bonuses were also a bone of contention. The players, led by captains Barnieh and Danlad, held a crucial meeting with the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Evans Opoku Bobie, and members of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Sports and Culture, including the Vice Chairman, Eugene Boakye Antwi, Benson Tongo Baba and Ranking Member, Wisdom Kobena Woyome, to discuss the thorny issue of unpaid bonuses for qualifying for the 2023 U-23 AFCON.
With regard to the outstanding bonuses, the blame should be put on the Black Meteors Management Committee led by Frederick Acheampong, who should have ensured that the players got the needed concentration by being paid all their bonuses when they qualified for the tournament three months ago.
However, another school of thought may also argue that the players should not have been demanding their bonuses ahead of such an important game, especially when those who had also tasted the Black Stars knew too well that bonuses were paid promptly after games.
The Black Meteors' failure to qualify for the Olympic Games obviously prolonged the disappointment of Ghanaians who had high hopes of ending the long wait for Olympic participation. No wonder the team was disbanded 24 hours after returning from the tournament.
Hitherto, Ghana used to qualify regularly for the Olympics, and even secured a historic bronze medal in 1992, which was Africa’s first Olympic medal. However, recent years have seen struggles in qualification, with the last appearance being at Athens in 2004.
As to when the trend would change, only time will tell. But for now, the destiny of Coach Tanko and his two assistants, Michael Osei and Godwin Attram, lies in the hands of the GFA Executive Committee (ExCo) which appointed them.