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Football Ghana

After a diary of disappointment spanning several decades, Ghanaian football is the envy of the continent once again. What’s responsible for the Black Stars’ resurgence of form? Our football editor Osasu Obayiuwana travelled to the country to find out.

Reaching for the stars U

ntil their World Cup debut at the 2006 finals in Germany, Ghana’s Black Stars were one of the inexplicable mysteries of the African game.

How could a country that had won four

African titles – winning their first in 1963 and their last in 1982, producing a string of legendary players like the late Robert Mensah, CK Gyamfi, Abdul Razak, Mo- hammed Polo, Anthony Yeboah and, of course, Abedi “Pele” Ayew, the three-time African Player of the Year – been incapable of earning a World Cup berth for so long? “We’ve no proper structure [for the de-

velopment of Ghanaian football], nothing is being done to develop the next genera- tion of footballers,” Abedi complained to me bitterly in late 2003, during a frank conversation at FIFA House on the pathet- ic state of Ghanaian football at the time. Tose barren World Cup qualifying

years, spanning nearly five decades, were particularly grating, as they painfully watched Nigeria, their friendly arch-rival, and Senegal take their place on the World Cup stage, with the latter reaching the quarter-finals at the 2002 tournament in Korea/Japan. But all that is in the past, as the Ghana-

ians have surpassed the World Cup records of their West African neighbours, with their quarter-final run at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa saving the con- tinent from embarrassment. Te other teams representing Africa –

Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and host South Africa, were knocked out in the preliminaries, leaving Ghana as the continent’s sole flag bearer in the knock- out stages. And had Asamoah Gyan’s composure

86 | March 2011 New African

not failed him in the 121st minute of that unforgettable quarter-final game against Uruguay, ballooning a match-winning penalty kick over the bar at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, the Black Stars would have taken African football to a new plateau of performance. “Yes, we should have reached the semi-

final but for that mishap,” a rueful Kwesi Nyantakyi, president of the Ghana Foot- ball Association (GFA), told New African at their headquarters in Accra. “But I am very proud of what we

achieved in South Africa. It was an im- provement on our debut performance at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, where we were also the only African team to make it to the second round.”

Rebuilding a broken house When Nyantakyi took over the GFA in 2005, initially in an acting capacity, the football-mad West African country was still licking its wounds, after an unpar- donable failure to qualify for the Nations Cup in 2004 and an early exit, courtesy of arch-rivals Nigeria, from the 2002 tourna- ment in Mali. Discipline and camaraderie had taken

leave of the team, as players had endless battles with team coaches and officials, over unpaid bonuses and the lack of ad- ministrative competence at the GFA. Nyantakyi says healing the rift between the disgruntled players, mostly Europe-

Midfielder Andre Ayew (left) and defender John Paintsil run with a Ghana flag after their Group D match against Germany at the World Cup

based, and the federation was one of the burning issues he had to tackle promptly on assuming office. “Most of the problems that Ghanaian

football has gone through in the recent past can be traced to poor management,” he admits. “But I can say that over the last five

years, we have tried to deal with these problems, which is why we have performed creditably at the last two World Cups.” Eastern European managerial influ-

ence has played a key role in Ghana’s re- cent success, with Ratomir Dujkovic and Milovan Rajevac, their coaches at the last two World Cups, both hailing from Serbia.” And following the controversial depar-

ture of Rajevac, voted Africa’s coach of the year for 2010, Ghana picked 44-year-old Goran Stefanovic, another Serbian, to take charge of the Black Stars. Rajevac, whose initial contract with

Ghana ran out after the 2010 World Cup finals, had been expected to sign an extension, taking him up to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. But he opted to sign a mouth-watering contract

African titles have been incapable of earning a World Cup berth until 2006 in Germany? ”

“ How could a country that had won four

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