Can Appiah lead Ghana to fifth AFCON glory?

BLACK Stars head coach James Kwesi Appiah is under a lot of pressure to end Ghana’s 37-year trophy drought.

Appiah marked a second romance with the Stars in 2017 when he was announced as head coach, following his predecessor Avram Grant’s failed attempt to deliver the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on two occasions.

He quickly took charge of the rest of the qualifying games for the World Cup in Russia the next year, but was unable to save Ghana’s already sinking ship, losing the only slot available to Egypt.

Ayew – Set to lead Ghana in Egypt

It then became apparent that Coach Appiah had a gargantuan task of building a solid, robust, energetic team as the one he had, appeared lethargic and out of gas. It definitely meant drastic changes were needed in the playing side and the net had to be cast wide to get fresh blood that fit the bill.

It came, therefore, as little surprise when during the qualifiers for the 2019 AFCON and in subsequent friendly games budding talents such as Lumor Agbenyenu, Kasim Nuhu, Raphael Dwamena, Thomas Agyepong, Emmanuel Boateng and Alfred Duncan among other, over the course of time, were given opportunities to make a case for their inclusion.

Coach Appiah is no stranger to Africa’s biggest tournament.

 He served as an assistant trainer to Frenchman Claude Le Roy in 2008; he also served in the same capacity under Milovan Rajevac in 2010 and Goran Stevanovic in 2012 before leading Ghana’s campaign in 2014 as head coach.

On the back of his rich experience with the senior side on the continent and beyond there is absolutely no excuse by Coach Appiah not to end Ghana’s hunt for a fifth trophy.

To achieve this feat and etch his name in gold, Coach Appiah must build a team that thrives on team unity and cohesion rather than big names and past glories.

Anyone or anything that threatens to distract the team from its target must be plucked out immediately.

Coach Appiah has been criticised by many football fans for his mild approach towards disciplinary issues and must step up if he wants to see Ghana’s AFCON dream materialise.

Row over the captain’s armband between current skipper Asamoah Gyan and Deputy Dede Ayew has lingered on for a long time and coach Appiah must employ his managerial skill to nip this worrying situation in the bud. The repercussions of this feud may be detrimental to the national cause as similar history in the stars camp has proven.

One big headache of Coach Appiah has been the blankness of his forward men.

He admitted in several post-matches interviews that the striking department was the weakest link in his team.

Appiah shuffled between Asamoah Gyan, Majid Waris, Emmanuel Boateng, Richmond Yiadom, Jordan Ayew and Caleb Ekuban. His strike force appeared out of colour in recent games, misfiring when called upon to deliver.

However, newbie Caleb Ekuban seemed to offer a glimmer of hope – saving Ghana’s blushes on the last day of the AFCON qualifier against Kenya after coming on as a second-half substitute.

He followed it up with another inspiring performance against Mauritania a friendly, grabbing the second goal, also as a substitute.

The burly striker’s hunger, strength, aerial ability and powerful foot may turn out to be Appiah’s secret weapon in Egypt.

The former Kotoko coach’s triumph card at this tournament will be how he deploys players in their most suitable roles to get the best out of them – a position he has struggled with in the past and that is still contending, especially with regard to versatile man Kwadwo Asamoah.

Concerns have also been raised in recent times about the roles he assign players like Thomas Partey, Andre Dede Ayew and Jordan Ayew and whether the team benefits from their full potential in these roles.

Nonetheless, Appiah is blessed with one of the most diverse and talented composition of players heading to Egypt. A blend of experienced tried and tested professionals complemented by young, energetic, hungry lads ready to carve a piece of history for themselves.

It is sad that Ghana had reached the semi-final stage in each of the last six tournaments, but has failed to lift the trophy, and was only upstaged by Cote d’Ivoire in the final of 2015.

Before then, the Stars had lost to Egypt in the grand finale of the Angola 2010 championship, and of course, as far back as 1992 stumbled in the lottery of penalty shoot-out to Cote d’Ivoire.

Now, the Stars are rapidly gaining notoriety of qualifying for tournaments they cannot hope to win. And, this is the major reason why you no longer see flags flying when they play. This is not a matter of lack of nationalism, patriotism or loyalty.  The let-downs are a bit too many to warrant this distressing trend.

Indeed, let us not be pretentious about that. If a team you support wholeheartedly makes it a routine occurrence to let you down when the expectation is all-too high, your support will naturally wane one day.  That is the situation now.

Despite the lucid shortcomings of the team, it remains an undeniable fact that the nation has a strong side capable of breaking Ghana’s 37-year jinx.

Coach Appiah must know that Ghanaians will be expecting nothing less than the ultimate!

BY DORIS EKUA ESHUN

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