Black Stars plot Bafana’s fall

NEARLY 72 hours after a laboured win over Ethiopia in a Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifier, Ghana’s Black Stars ‘hit the skies’ to take on the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in, arguably, the toughest assignment of Group G.

Ghana significantly managed a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Walias of Ethiopia, zooming to the summit of the group ahead of South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Mubarak Wakaso’s 35th-minute left-footed range drilled past goalkeeper Balcha Shanko, who may have miscalculated the flight of the ball, for the Stars’ solitary goal of the evening.

In spite of garnering the maximum points, most of the home fans were not thrilled by the Stars’ rambling performance, and demanded an improved quality display in their subsequent engagements, if they really want to make it to their fourth Mundial, next year.

Only one team qualifies from this phase to the next stage of the campaign – and that makes today’s task against the Bafanas a much trickier Himalayan undertaking.

Impressively, Ghana in recent times have established an enviable stranglehold on South Africa – beating them at will, and even got them booted out of next year’s African Cup of Nations competition to be staged in Cameroon.

After earlier drubbing them 2-0 in Cape Coast in November 2019, the Stars put up another audacious display in March this year to hold the Bafanas to a 1-1 draw at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, and thus qualified for the Nations Cup.

The Stars, who played the game without notable names including Captain Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, and Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, snatched the lead in the 49th minute through Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus. The goal was, however, canceled out by Percy Tau, seven minutes after the restart.

That home draw and a fatal away loss to Sudan, viciously combined to see the South Africans miss out of the Cameroon football fiesta, next January.

Without any smidgen of doubt, the South Africans still carry that cayenne of pain – and the desire for revenge will serve as a palpable adrenaline-pumper when they take on the Black Stars at the FNB Stadium (The Calabash) at 4.pm this afternoon.

More herculean for Ghana Coach CK Akunnor is the fact that the Stars will go into today’s battle without seven of its key players that grinded the Ethiopian result. They include Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace), Daniel Amartey (Leicester City), Jeffrey Schlupp (Leicester City) as well as Reading FC duo of Andy Kyere Yiadom and Baba Abdul Rahman.

Worst still, Rennes’ forward Kamal Deen Suleymana and Daniel Kofi Kyereh of German side FC St Pauli were also recalled by their clubs and thus failed to make the trip.

Failure to make the Johannesburg trip was triggered by the decision of English Premier League (EPL) clubs not to allow their players to travel to COVID 19 red-list countries. Indeed, players who travelled to red-list countries would have to follow coronavirus quarantine regulations upon their return, ruling them out of several of their club’s matches.

This means Akunnor would have to dig deep into his reservoir of experience and pluck home fitting replacements capable of grinding the desired result in this potentially explosive tie.

Clearly, too, the afternoon provides huge opportunity for talents – Hearts of Oak’s Daniel Afriyie Barnieh, who led Ghana to win this year’s Under-20 AFCON tournament, and star player of that competition Fatawu Issahaku – to make a heavy statement – once they get the nod of Coach Akunnor.

The Ghana coach has indicated his ambition to produce an improved performance and good result and Ghanaians can only goad him on and spare him a prayer.

For Akunnor’s opposite number, Hugo Broos, the game against Ghana is going to be a very tough task, but he is confident of posting victory.

“Games against Ghana are always tough, and we can only expect them to come strong. They have had the better of the games in recent times, but we are hopeful of a win.

“We wouldn’t be athletes if we didn’t have the aim of reaching the World Cup. We want to go through, even though we’re in tough group and up against teams who are at their peak, while we’re at the start of a rebuilding process. We’ll fight, though, and do what we can to qualify,” the coach told the local media.

Coach Akunnor has come under amperage of criticism since the Ethiopia game and today presents another opportunity to prove his skeptics wrong.

Ethiopia is expected to host Zimbabwe tomorrow in Group G’s other game at the 60,000 capacity Dahir Dar Stadium.

BY JOHN VIGAH

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