Ghana Black Stars began their campaign in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament on a dawdling note when they slumped 3-2 to Portugal in the second game of Group H at the ongoing fairy-tale World Cup tournament in Qatar.
Yesterday’s defeat at the 974 stadium in Ras Abu Aboud, Doha, was hard to take after the Stars had held the Portuguese to a barren half they largely defended and leaned on fast counters that never came.
Eight years ago, defeat was callously handed the Stars by the Portuguese at the Brazil 2014 Mundial – where cult figure Cristiano Ronaldo, was virtually gifted a goal by goalkeeper FatauDauda – after John Boye’s ridiculously outlandish own goal.
This time, Ronaldo was awarded a highly contentious penalty by US referee Kyle Akins in the 63rd minute after throwing himself down from an innocuous challenge from Mohammed Salisu.
The Stars protested vehemently and badgered on the referee to crosscheck his decision from the VAR, but he stuck to his gun, enabling Ronaldo to convert from the spot and become the first player in history to score at five different World Cups.
Goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi had guessed right, by the sheer power from the spot drooled him.
However, the cheers that had greeted the goal lasted for only eight minutes after Skipper Andre DedeAyew slotted home the equalizer from close range, benefitting from a spectacular effort from Mohammed Kudus who ghosted past his marker on left to set up his captain.
Ghana’s goal almost brought the stadium to its knees. The response from the crowd was deafening.
Interestingly, few moments after the goal, Coach Otto Addo decided to replace Andre Ayew for Osman Bukari.
And, Ayew had barely warmed up in his seat when Portugal again restored their lead after a brilliant work from Bruno Fernandes. The Manchester United midfielder tracked Joao Felix’s run on the right as the forward sliced one behind the impressive Ati-Zigi in the 78th minute.
Three minutes after being subbed on for Ruben Neves, Rafael Leao, extended the Portuguese lead to 3-1 after Fernandes again released him on the left wing. Portugal then made triple substitutions with Ronaldo, Felix and Bernardo coming off for Mario, Palhinha and Ramos.
But it was not over for Ghana. With just a minute of regulation time left, Bukari offered his side some glimmer of hope after reducing the deficit with a magnificent finish to send the game into a stormy finish that was characterized by bad tempers from both sides.
With nine minutes of time added, the Stars pressed hard for the equalizer and created some decent chances as substitute Kyereh and Semenyo added to blustery fight. The second half performance was a far cry from the lethargic first half display.
Ghanaians had always insisted that the defeat to Portugal in Brazil was as a result of the imbroglio in the team’s camp which tore into shreds their collective sense of purpose and tenacity.
What was showcased yesterday – particularly in the second half, unambiguously showed a team that was ever determined to stop at nothing until they achieve a golden target of proceeding beyond their 2010 quarter-final feat – if they continue to play the way they did after the break.
Many of the bookmakers had predicted an embarrassing result for Ghana. They said it would be a cold day in hell for the Stars; whilst others offered the team an alarming lame call that would eventually cascade into another disconcerting first round exit.
Certainly, the upshot of yesterday’s frenetic exchanges should force the cavilers to have a biting change of mind as each member of the team played their hearts out – and showed they were in Qatar for real business.
Yesterday’s game was watched by President Nana AddoDankwaAkufo-Addo, who was in Doha– in the company of the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mustapha Ussifand other marquee officials – including some Parliamentarians, for the big game.
Indeed, shortly on arrival, the President visited the players at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Doha, and pumped some words of inspiration into them ahead of the game.
The World Cup itself, has provided its own wonder – and that could be a source of inspiration to the competition’s underdogs – as the second day of the campaign saw low-rated Saudi Arabia poke a stunning 2-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina – one of the favourites to lift the Holy Grail.
As if that was not enough, Japan resurrected from a goal down to beat four-time champions Germany 2-1 in their engagement on Wednesday evening.
Ghana, currently placed bottom of the table, will take on South Korea – who drew with Uruguay – in their next assignment on November 28. It is a must-win or nothing – if they are eager to remain in the competition.
FROM JOHN VIGAH, DOHA, QATAR
(Courtesy: Ministry of Youth and Sports)