The nation’s football slaughter house – Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, is expected to rumbleoff to another epic victory when Ghana’s Black Stars clash in a Group E Nations Cup qualifying cracker with the PalancasNegras of Angola.
Today’s top-of-the-table first leg clash is Chris Hughton’s maiden assignment before a pet crowd after his appointment last week, and would be eager to see his charges deliver a momentous performance – soothing enough to mend broken hearts.
The experienced Ghanaian-Irish was the Technical Director of the Black Stars at last year’s World Cup in Qatar where the team crashed out in the opening round, after crumbling to sworn-rivals – Uruguay.
That torture is still bottled up somewhere in the hearts of the fans. Ahead of that ill-fated campaign, too, the Stars had suffered an ego-shattering first round exit at the 2022 African Cup of Nations hosted by Cameroon. Many disciples of the Black Stars believe there is something positive on the way.
Boasting a treasure of experience under his belt, Coach Hughton will hope to hit the ground running as the Stars roar off their quest for a 10th consecutive AFCON appearance.
Ghana has not held the coronet since the 1982 feat in Libya 1982 – some 41 years ago, and this is one dark history Ghanaians would want the new coach to efface quickly.
Nonetheless, Hughton – who succeeded Otto Addo after the World Cup, has made it copiously clear during his outdooring that he was first and foremost concerned about building a formidable team rather than ending the nation’s trophy frustrations.
It was a smart way of lifting the lid of pressure off him – though in his deepest thoughts, Hughton would very much love to break that ‘stygian jinx’ and be the first to annex the Holy Grail for Ghana in more than four decades.
Ghana, four times winners of the competition, steamed off their qualifying campaign with a 3-0 hammering of Madagascar in June last year, before a disappointing 1-1 draw with Central African Republic.
On the other hand, Angola have picked up four points from a possible six – beating the Central African Republic 2-1 in their qualifying journey and pulling off a pulsating 1-1 draw with Madagascar in a game of several missed opportunities.
The two countries are currently separated only by goal difference at the top of Group E, making this midweek contest attractivelycomposed and a potential decider in their race for a spot in Cote d’Ivoire.
However, the Stars have sworn to dash for the juggler andmaximum points on their favourite Kumasi lush turf – a field that saw a mighty Egypt team in their elements, clatter to a humiliating 6-1 whitewashing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup play-off, some 10 years ago.
For his first game in charge, the Ghana sweat merchant has called up a star-spangled 25-man list, including skipper and Nottingham Forest striker Andre Ayew, who boasts 24 goals in 113 appearances to date.
Skipper Ayew, doubtless, may not carry the same verve and vivacity that he demonstrated when he was first invited into the team on August 7, 2007, under Claude Le Roy, but still wields a reservoir of experience needed for these dicey duels.
Together with the likes of star-man-and-in-form Mohammed Kudus, Thomas Partey, Jordan Ayew, KamaldeenSulemana and Antoine Semenyo, the visiting Antelopes should be running for cover.
Grippingly, head coach of the Angolans – Pedro Goncalves, has been speaking tough ahead of today’s nerve-jangler – promising without blinking an eye – to beat the Black Stars.
“This is our mind as we face the Black Stars. Watch out for us; we believe that we will face one-on-one and beat the Black Stars,” he asserted.
The Angolans will be banking hopes on their in-form 37-year-old goalkeeper Hugo Marques, who has made 18 appearances since his debut in August 2011 as well as the dangerous GelsonDala, who has poked home two of the Antelopes’ three goals in the qualifiers. There is also the Spezia Calcio striker M’BalaNzola, who has been in fantastic form in the Italian SerieA, shipping in 12 goals and providing two assists in 22 appearances.
Helder Costa, Pedro Agostinho, Bruno Paz and Casa Pia midfielder BeniMukendi, will also be hoping to excel for the three-time COSAFA champions.
In head-to-head stats, nonetheless, Ghana have beaten their opponents three times – dating as far back as November 11, 1982, when the Stars emerged 2-1 victors in an international friendly in Luanda. Angola’s only victory against Ghana was recorded on June 22, 1997 in an Africa Cup of Nations tie.
Ghana’s 2-1 win over Angola in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, may have been normal. But the PalancasNegras would never forget the January 24, 2010 defeat to the Ghanaians where they slumped 1-0 as AFCON hosts at the quarter-final stage. They have since been looking for the grand opportunity to pay the Stars back in their own coin.
Sadly, the Antelopes’ last won a competitive game away from home in 2019 when they defeated Botswana 1-0 at the ObedItaniChilume Stadium in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers. This is not an encouraging result to tap for inspiration, and clearly, they would find it pretty difficult to survive in front of an all-chanting, boisterousand intimidating Kumasi crowd.
Indeed, Ghanaians would be expectant of an emphatic victory – solid enough to calm down nerves ahead of the reverse fixture four days later (March 27) in Launda.
BY JOHN VIGAH