Black Stars Qualification To The 1/16th Stage Of Afcon 2019

The Black Stars of Ghana yesterday brought back smiles to the faces of Ghanaians with an impressive two nil win over the Djurtus of Guinea Bissau in the last round of “Group F” games. As sweet as the victory was, it gave Ghana a smooth passage to the one-sixteenth stage of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON ongoing in Egypt. It is the 7th successive time Ghana has made it from the group stage of the AFCON since 2008.  Admittedly, Ghana has had a difficult start to the competition against all odds.They were held to a pulsating two–two draw in the opening game against the Squirrels of Benin, a match the Stars were highly tipped to win.The Ayew brothers, captain Andre and Jordan combined to score one goal apiece to cancel out Beninois striker Mickael Pote’s brace. The anti-climax on the evening was a red card to defender John Boye for delay tactics at a time the Stars were leading two-one.
As if that was not enough, the four-time African champions were held by the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun to a nail biting zero–zero draw in the second match.  Quite interestingly, there was significant improvement in that game. More troubling for Ghana, however, is that, midfielder Christian Atsu will no longer play a part in the tournament as he suffered a hamstring injury after just 14 minutes. Indeed, there are a lot more injury concerns than meets the eye. Midfielder Thomas Agyepong and defender Jonathan Mensah are still recuperating from injuries they suffered in the first two games, not to talk about the knocks some players had. As a matter of fact, Ghana’s quest to win the AFCON would depend on how fit some key players remain till the competition is over.
In yesterday’s match, the Stars had to relocate from their base in Ismailia to the Seaport City of Suez which is a distance of about 90km. Even though it was the first time the Stars were playing at that venue, they looked sharper, and well composed especially in the second half. Jordan Ayew and Thomas Partey came through with the two goals which enabled Ghana top the Group after Cameroun drew goalless with Benin in the other game. As if by design, the last time Ghana won the AFCON trophy in 1982, a similar pattern played out. Goals from George Alhassan and Samuel Opoku-Nti enabled Ghana to draw with host nation Libya in the first match, to the disappointment of that country’s then leader Muammar Al Gaddafi.
Ghana then drew zero–zero with Cameroun, before dispatching Tunisia one–zero courtesy a John “Zion Train” Essien’s goal at the 11 June Stadium in Tripoli. Indeed, the last two AFCON winners, Ivory Coast in 2015 and Cameroun in 2017 all drew two matches and won one just as the Black Stars. However, it remains to be seen if history would repeat itself.  On Monday July 8, Ghana comes up against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the next round. Winners in 2004 when they hosted. The Tunisians haven’t excited as much in this tournament but have enough quality to cause nervy moments for Ghana. The experience of Wahbi Khazri and the exuberance of Youssef Msakni could cause a lot of anxious moments for Ghana.
However, in all the seven matches played at the AFCON by these two countries, Ghana won six and drawn just once against the North Africans.  It is worthy of note that Ghanaian teams at all levels of football are tagged as perennial slow starters in major competitions, but once they get their rhythm, they are difficult to beat. The expectation is that the Stars would improve on their performance. It’s also imperative to note that, there has been no negative news from the team’s camp. In spite of the initial brouhaha over captaincy, there is solid unity among all the players with their usual jama rendition being sung before and after matches. Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Cameroun have all had issues over bonuses but not with Ghana.  37 years is long enough for Ghanaians to wait for another trophy. This, the players understandably are aware. Go Ghana; let’s end the AFCON trophy drought this year.
BY EMMANUEL ADU-GYAMFI, A SPORTS JOURNALIST.

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