The names of George Alhassan and Thomas Partey of different generations of the senior national football team, the Black Stars, will remain in Ghana’s football historical records, for their moments of great football artistry, which rather turned out to be a nightmare for the Stars, at different locations on the continent.
What happened and how did it nearly result into a ‘terrorists’ attack?
The first near “terrorist attack” on the Black Stars was ‘orchestrated’ by Ghana’s prolific goal-machine George Alhassan in far away Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, on August 2, 1981. It was a crucial Libya 1982 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier.
All hope for Ghana to qualify appeared gloomy, especially after the Stars were held to 2-2 draw by the Leopards at the Accra Sports Stadium some few days back. On account of the away goal superiority rule, the Black Stars were knocked out, and qualifying to Libya appeared mission impossible.
The thin faith of Black Stars qualifying to play in the AFCON in Libya laid in the team, made up of John Baker, Haruna Yussif, Seth Ampadu, Isaac Paha, Adolf Armah/Abedi Pele Ayew, John Essien, Kofi Badu, Abdul-Razak, George Alhassan, and Francis Kumi under the technical direction of Coach C.K. Gyamfi, assisted by Emmanuel Afranie and Osam Duodo, all of blessed memory.
Then came the kick-off, the crowd in the 80,000-seater 20th May Sports Stadium in Kinshasa, including the Head of State, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (shortened Mobutu Sese Seko), was intimidating. The Zaireans scored an early goal in the second half of the game. The game was too hot for Ghana. Will the Stars make it to Libya? Big question!
Midway into the second half, disaster struck Ghana; but later turned out to be a good omen for the Stars. The captain and playmaker of the team, Adolf Armah, got injured and was stretchered off the field.
The clock was fast ticking against Ghana, and it appeared the Black Stars would be eliminated.
Coach Gyamfi’s only option was to gamble and throw Abedi Pele into the game. Many were taken aback; they thought that the diminutive 17-year-old Tamale Ghana Secondary School Form Four chap was not matured for the crunch, but soon the benefits of the risk taken emerged.
Abedi justified his inclusion and changed the chemistry of the game. He brought fresh idea, energy, and speed into the game. Soon the Stars regained their rhythm.
Goalkeeper Baker (may his soul rest in peace), restarted the game in the 60th minute, by throwing the ball to Yussif, who placed a pass to Ampadu, and ‘the man of the match’ squared a pass to Paha. He also flicked the ball to Essien, operating at the right wing. Just in time Yussif had overlapped from the right back for a pass. He surveyed the field and sent in a cross which found the head of Alhassan, who towered above the Zairean defence to head in a goal.
Two minutes later, Baker started another move for the Stars, after the Zairean had lost possession soon after the restart, by playing the ball into the path of Abedi Pele. The enterprising midfielder, whom the Zairean fans referred to as ‘Petit Pele’ chested it down for Ampadu, he found Kofi Badu, who danced around Zairean midfielders to send a pass to Essien at the right flank.
The ‘Zion Train’ (Essien) crossed it to Alhassan, who was later to become the AFCON Libya ‘82 Golden Boot awardee, and he repeated the dose, to kill off the Zaireans and turn the stadium into a cemetery.
The Black stars were now in the driving seat, playing their man-to-man ‘agoro’ football, reducing the Zaireans to mere spectators on the field as they chased their own shadows. Not even a doubtful last minute penalty could help the Leopards to qualify.
And when the final whistle brought proceedings to an end, it was reported that the crowd was furious with the Stars for killing their dream of AFCON appearance within a space of three minutes. The crowd stood still!
The Stars and their technical handlers were held hostage in the dressing room for some time for the fans to let it go, before they were sneaked out late in the night to their hotel en route to the airport the next day to leave for Accra.
Forty-one years later on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, a new generation of Black Stars, who were not born during the ‘captivity’of their predecessors, were to experience a similar situation coming up against arch-rivals Super Eagles of Nigeria at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, the political capital of West Africa’s most populous state, in a crucial decider to FIFA World Cup Qatar ’22.
A brilliant pass from Jordan Ayew to Gideon Mensah as early in the 10th minute of the of their crucial Qatar ’22 decider eventually landed at the dreaded foot of Partey, who fired one of his ‘arsenals’ that pierced through the body of the sprawling Super Eagles goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, for Ghana to fetch the slot for Qatar, by virtue of the away goal rule. Not even the equalizer, via the penalty kick, could salvage the Nigerians.
The goal saw the mighty West African state of Nigeria crash down under the heavy load of her ‘thinly populated’ sub-regional football rival. The fans would not take kindly to it and had to vent their anger on anything they laid hands on in the nice edifice, throwing water bottles and other missiles at the Black Stars, who were held hostage hours in the dressing room.
Contrary to the behaviour of the Nigerian fans, Super Eagles defender Leon Balogun showed great sportsmanship by appearing in the Stars’ dressing room to exchange pleasantries with the players and technical handlers.
So, is that how best ‘Oga’ can pay back theirgovernment who declared a half-day of work for them to pick up free tickets to watch the match? Let us not allow our brains fall from our head, even in defeat!
BY SALIFU ABDUL-RAHAMAN