Stars, Morocco in cagey clash

For a long while, there has not been a moment that Ghanaians feel dispirited and utterly frustrated about the Black Stars, heading into an African Cup of Nations tournament, than now.

A measured transport of optimism earlier appears to have given way to near hopelessness. This followed the Stars’ ego-shattering 0-3 loss to Algeria’s Fennec Foxes in a pre-tournament friendly in Doha, Qatar, last Wednesday.

Algeria, the defending African champions, bamboozled the Stars with a piece of sumptuous football that decanted pretty patterns on the pitch, capitalising on two school-boy errors by two debutante goalies and a ridiculous own goal by Jonathan Mensah. It was a boorish awakening!

But, in spite of that January 5 nightmare, there were some positives to pick from young lads like Fatau Issahaku, Joseph Paintsil, Kamaldeen Suleymana, whose decipherable individual brilliance can lit up the Stars’ game, especially with the presence of Skipper Andre Dede Ayew, Mubarak Wakaso, Jordan Ayew and Baba Rahman among others – who all missed the Algeria test.

At the multi-purpose Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé, this afternoon at 4pm, the Stars will open their Cameroon 2021 Nations Cup campaign against the Atlas Lions of Morocco in what is certainly the fiercest clash of Group C. It is one game many disciples of African football have been looking forward to with bated breath.

The Stars, a sweet blend of maturity and youthful exuberance, will be itching to make a huge statement – especially when the experts have labeled them as underdogs – with others already giving them no dog’s chance to go beyond the Round of 16.

But grinding the result against an Atlas team that has not won the continental trophy since 1976 – 46 solid years, is going to be a Himalayan undertaking, yet not an impossible mission for Ghana – though they are parading as many as 17 rookies.

“We know the challenge we have on hand, but we’re determined and ready for any team,” Skipper Ayew assured, insisting that they would die for the jersey.

Though they slumped badly in their preparatory game, the Stars showcased supreme passion, irresistible desire and irrepressible hunger to churn out something worth remembering.

In their last two Nations Cup ties, Ghana and Morocco drew 0-0 in a Group B clash in Bamako, Mali, on January 21, 2002. Six years later – specifically on January 28, two clinical goals from Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari stabbed the Moroccans 2-0 in a Group A final game at the Accra Sports Stadium before 40,000 roaring fans.

Importantly, however, the Atlas Lions on June 8 last year, managed to beat the Stars 1-0 in an international friendly in Rabat. A Jawad El-Yamiq 68th minute strike proved fatal on the night.                 

Propelled by the last result, the Moroccans will plunge into the afternoon with all guns blazing as they seek for a victory that would define their future in the campaign. Though they boast of talents from PSG (Achraf Hakimi), Wolves (Romain Saiss) and Barcelona’s Ez Abde, the decision to exclude Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech over supposed disciplinary breaches is one that could come back to bite their Bosnian manager, Vahid Halilhodzic.

Yet, it would be a thrill to see how Ghana’s Serbian coach, Milovan Rajevac, tackle a Morocco side who have not lost a game in 90 minutes since 2019.

Fascinatingly, Ghana and Morocco were bundled out at the 1/16th stage when the tournament was held in Egypt three years ago, and would be keyed up to bounce back in a more fabulous fashion.

The Stars are chasing their fifth African conquest since the glory of Libya ’82. Can they lay their hands on the Golden Fleece that has eluded them for 40 years? That is the multi-million-dollar question on the lips of Ghanaians who are much concerned about the team’s pitiable scoring rate.

BY JOHN VIGAH:

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