The quest to end a 15-year wait to taste Olympic Games soccer is what will drive Ghana’s Black Meteors to go for the jugular today at the Cairo International Stadium in Egypt where they take on debutants, the Lions of Cameroon in the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament at 7pm.
Drawn in Group A alongside host Egypt and Mali, the Black Meteors have an arduous task in realising their tournament goal of lifting the ultimate as predicted by the Head Coach, Ibrahim Tanko.
The tournament is serving as qualifiers for the football competition of the 2020 Olympic Games with the top three countries advancing to represent Africa at the multisport showpiece in Tokyo, Japan.
Both Ghana and Cameroon are making their debut appearance at the U-23 AFCON and again seeking a return to the Olympic Games. Ghana is yet to make a showing since a group stage appearance at the Athens 2004 Games while the Cameroonians exited in the quarter-finals to Brazil four years later in Beijing.
Having braved the odds to be at the championships albeit a surprise 2–1 aggregate win over the Desert Foxes of Algeria, after drawing 1-1 at home and beating the North African 1-0 in Algiers to qualify for their maiden appearance, this present generation of Black Meteors are closer to making it to the Olympic Games than any of the previous sides in the last decade.
Sadly, the team will be without the trusted gang of Joseph Paintsil, Osman Bukari, Bernard Tekpetey, Dauda Mohammed, Majeed Ashimeru, Gideon Mensah, Joel Fameyeh, Ropapa Mensah and centre-back Nicholas Opoku due to their clubs unwillingness to release them.
That notwithstanding, Coach Tanko believes the likes of Simon Zibo, Emmanuel Lomotey, Frank Arhin, Robin Polley, Evans Mensah, Edward Sarpong and Samuel Obeng Gyabaa backed by skipper Yaw Yeboah will at least deliver a qualification ticket to the Olympic Games if not lifting the trophy.
The arrival of top striker Kwabena Owusu in camp has brought renewed hope ahead of the game, according to Coach Tanko, who also has FC Utrecht striker Abass Issah at his disposal.
Speaking ahead of the game, Coach Tanko says the players are poised to break the jinx over Ghana’s failure to qualify for the tournament.
“We are going to the tournament with two aims, that is, to win the trophy and qualify for the Olympic Games. If we have to achieve that we must win every game we play at the tournament and that begins this evening against Cameroon.
Coach Tanko stated that since 2004 the country has never tasted Olympic football action, the technical team and playing body are well aware of how thirsty the nation is for Olympic soccer and are battle-ready to satisfy that thirst with the backing of prayers and support from Ghanaians.
“Support from Ghanaians is very important; the national team belongs to Ghanaians so if we come together as a nation, we are going to achieve our aims together. I urge Ghanaians to rally behind the team as we all aim to bring back the love, he added.
Like Ghana, Cameroon also brushed aside their North African opponents Tunisia to qualify for the AFCON and under the guidance of country legend Rigobert Song, they are hoping to start on a winning note against the Black Meteors.
The 2000 Olympic gold medalist pitched camp in Hungary trying out strategies for the tournament and this, Coach Rigobert Song admits has shaped his side for the tournament.
“We are prepared for this tournament and would want to have a good start this evening, however, the opposition would not come easy. We are sure of coming out the victor after 90 minutes.”
BY RAYMOND ACKUMEY