AFTER days of anxious wait, draw for the Egypt 2019 Nations Cup has taken place. Predictably enough, Ghana has been thrown into a group considered as cagey by experts of continental football.
The Black Stars of Ghana were clustered alongside defending champions – the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, as well as Benin and Guinea Bissau. Many Ghanaians may have skipped beats when the name of the Indomitable Lions roared into Group F.
Cote d’Ivoire legend Yaya Toure, who participated in the draw, has already tipped the Cameroonians to qualify from the group alongside Ghana, describing Group F as very strong.
Perhaps – providently, the draw provides the Stars with the prospect of avenging two excruciating defeats suffered in recent times at the hands of the Cameroonians during the Ghana 2008 and Gabon 2017 semi-final stages of the competition.
Egypt for the first time will be hosting the first Africa Cup of Nations expanded from 16 to 24 teams as the one-month tournament roars off from June 21-July 19, this year.
As expected, the draw sparked a googol of reaction from the home contingent – the local fans, who have been praying solemnly for Ghana to annex the Holy Grail this term, having watched the Stars consecutively dazzle their way into the last-four in the past six tournaments – only to taper off.
Beguilingly, somehow, the Stars have been to two grand finals in just five years (Angola 2010 and Equatorial Guinea 2015), losing all-too agonizingly to Egypt and Cote d’Ivoire; thus, adding to what some fans increasingly believe is becoming a throbbing curse.
Indeed, the last time Ghana annexed the Nations Cup coronet was in Libya ’82. It has been 37 incredible years without the much-treasured silverware! That is the real curse! When you have majority of today’s youth not having the opportunity of watching the Stars lift up the trophy, you can only describe it as football’s malediction.
Interestingly, too, none of the current Ghana players were born as of the time their predecessors were crowned African champions in the team’s last celebrated feat.
Come to think of it, Egypt had won the Nations Cup trophy only twice (1957 and 1959)at a time Ghana were swaggering as four-time champions (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982), enjoying all the biggest plaudits in the world. Indeed, you dare not mention the name of Ghana without adding that gorgeous appellation: Brazilians of African football!
Today, Egypt are incredibly seven-time (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010) African champions; Ghana is still at four!
In the same vein, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon had not won a single trophy as of 1982 when the Stars were already on top of the world. Today, Cameroon are five-time ((1984, 1988, 2000, 2002, 2017)) continental champions. Once again, Ghana is still lifelessly stagnant.
It is sad, very heart-rending. It is tragic and tear-jerking, to say the least.
Today, we are not only known as the sleeping giants of African football, but we have slipped into a nadir of shame and ignominy due to a disturbing culture of mediocrity where we even celebrate silver-medal feats. This must not be tolerated this time around! It is nothing but the Cup, in Egypt.
That hoodoo, many pray, has to be conked out this term. It must be crushed into smithereens! But it would take some oneness of a nation to achieve the purpose. We need a singleness of mind and purpose. The battle is not for the players alone; it is for all Ghanaians, especially those who have the nation at heart.
Indeed, we all have to rally behind the Stars as they embark on the Egypt redemption trip. We ought to see the Stars as one Ghana and throw away any shred or hint of politics. The fact that your government is not in power does not mean you should run down the team or turn your back at them.
Of course, whether you like or not, when the Stars return from Egypt with a success story, it would rub sweetly on us all as Ghanaians. When they fail, too, we shall carry the shame and dishonour; which is why we must see the Egypt operation as national project.
In other jurisdictions like Cote d’Ivoire, a day’s national prayer is declared whenever the national team is embarking for a major tournament like the Nations Cup and the World Cup. It is good for national cohesion and unity. It fosters the spirit of patriotism and nationalism. It stirs oneness in the national team, toting up a cologne of luck, too. And, that is the way to go!
In 2015, we (Ghana) did everything humanly possible in the Nations Cup grand finale against Cote d’Ivoire, but lost bitterly after extra-time – having taken an imposing 2-0 lead in the shoot-out. You may disregard it; you may downplay it – but it does not discount the fact that luck plays a critical part in the game of football.
Whilst we are it trying to shore up national unity, cohesion and support ahead of the tournament, it is also incumbent on the players to train harder, get focused and march into Egypt with unity of purpose for the Himalayan assignment ahead.
The players may have done luminously well by qualifying Ghana to its first World Cup in 2006, and adding two more (South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014), but that now meant nothing to the Ghanaian without an African title to match.
Let the players be told in plain in plain language that the major reason why you no longer see flags flying when they play is that Ghanaians are speedily losing confidence in them. This is not a matter of lack of nationalism, patriotism or loyalty. The let-downs are a bit too many and this is what has warranted this distressing trend.
So, clearly, we need our players to go to Egypt, keep their noses to the grindstone, and bring back a coveted trophy Ghana won for keeps by upstaging Libya 7-6 on penalties – after extra time.
As a nation of common destiny, we must rally strongly behind the Stars. Together, we must fight with them to attain the glory. They deserve more support now than ever. There must be a castration of bitterness and a reparation of that rock-ribbed attitude that was once considered an infrangible disposition of Ghanaians when it comes to football.
The pains of the Brazil 2014 World Cup where Ghana were flushed out in round one with its concomitant issues must belong to history now.
Clearly, the recent mammoth crowd at the Accra Sports Stadium that watched the Stars’ game against Kenya, may have demonstrated a strong Ghanaian desire to bury the hatchet and forge ahead.
Indeed, football has become one great unifying national force that has brought us together more than anything one can imagine. As such, loss of confidence in our national team could deal a destructive stroke to our national spirit.
Until the Pyramids spew out a glamorous football brewed from the land of the Pharaohs, let our FA and government, too, do their damnedest to ensure that the 37-year-old Stygian silence is broken in Egypt.
BY JOHN VIGAH