Tonight’s international friendly in France: Can Stars break Brazil’s stranglehold?

Ghana’s football victories against Brazil have come through the cadet and youth levels.

At the senior stage, the story has been unspeakably awful – not the one that Ghanaians would be proud of; or be wanting to remember.

Nemar – Brazil skippeer

But at the 25,178 all-seater Stade Océane in Le Havre, France, this evening, the Black Stars look to change the narrative and rewrite a script that for many years would be soothing to the heart.

This evening’s game is one of three friendlies lined up for the Stars to tramp them into fine fettle before they kick-start the demanding Qatar 2022 World Cup campaign in November.

There have been an avalanche of discourse regarding the tonight’s game with some ‘faint’ hearts predicting doom for Ghana, in view of Brazil’s stranglehold on the Stars – and more so, their recent devastating form.

The Seleção have remained impregnable in more than a year; the last time they lost a game (0-1) was against fierce rivals Argentina during the Copa America final on July 11, 2021. That defeat, notwithstanding, the five-time world champions comfortably breezed through the qualifying run unscathed to Qatar, amassing 45 points from 17 games.

On the reverse, Ghana had to rely on an away-goal-rule in difficult qualifying series to knock off Nigeria’s Super Eagles from the campaign.

In head-to-head, the Brazilians have beaten their Ghanaian counterparts in all four previous meetings. It all roared off on March 27, 1996, when they white-washed the Black Meteors (Ghana’s Under-23 Olympic team preparing for Atlanta ‘96) 8-2 in a friendly. That heavy defeat was followed by a 3-0 win against the Black Stars at the Germany World Cup on June 27, 2006. Two subsequent friendlies on March 27, 2007 and September 6, 2011, ended with 1-0 wins for the Seleção.

However, Ghana has also had some unforgettable joys over the Brazilians at the lower level – the most indelibly glorious one was documented in 2009 when present Ghana captain – Andre Dede Ayew, led the Black Satellites to win the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt. That momentous triumph remains the only one executed by an African country until today.

There is also the famous sweltering 3-2 win at the Ecuador ’95 World Cup final that saw Ghana’s Black Starlets clinch their second FIFA Under-17 conquest.

Coaches of the two teams are poised to line up the strongest possible squad with Brazil’s manager Tite expected to unleash the likes of Richarlison, Lucas Paqueta, Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Raphinha on the Stars’ whose goalkeeper Jojo Wollacott should have a lot to grapple with.

Evidently missing from the Brazil team for the tie is in-shape Gabriel Jesus, despite banging home four goals and providing three assists in a glittering start to his Arsenal career in the English Premiership. Though he has wrestled to command a regular spot in Brazil’s starter, it is still a surprise to see the likes of Roberto Firmino, Mattheus Cunha and Flamengo’s Pedro muster a shot ahead of him. 

Ghana coach Otto Addo has handed maiden invitation to Brighton & Hove Albion right-back, Tariq Kwame Nii-Lante Lamptey and Atletico Bilbao forward Inaki Williams, after the duo switched loyalties from England and Spain respectively. There is also Southampton centre-back Mohammed Salisu as well as Hamburger SV Bundesliga forward Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer and Karlsruher SC defender Stephan Ambrosius.

Together with Captain Andre Ayew, Thomas Partey, Mohammed Kudus, Jordan Ayew and Kamaldeen Sulemana among others, the Stars should be able to hold their own against the highly-favoured Brazilians, who are the number one-ranked FIFA nation – 59 places above Ghana.

Kudus, in particular, will draw the eyes of the world – having demonstrated a shimmering form for Ajax so far this season. His goal against Liverpool’s goalie Allison at Anfield in the Champions League is still etched on the minds of many. He should be motivated again to repeat the dose against Allison, who happens to be Brazil’s first-choice goalie.

This evening’s friendly will provide good preparation for the Brazilians who face Cameroon in their final match in Group G at the World Cup. Serbia and Switzerland are the South Americans’ other opponents.

Just like Brazil, the friendly should serve as a formidable test yet for Addo’s Stars as they put their act together before taking on low-rated Nicaragua in their second friendly next Tuesday, September 27. The World Cup quarter-finalist Ghana are pooled in a potentially-combative Group H with Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea.

Though the Seleção are odds-on-favourites to keep their frame intact after 90 minutes, the Ghanaians are equally determined to cut the Gordian knot this time around – and effectively banish the demons that have haunted them since 1996.

Question on the lips of Ghanaian football fans is, can they? Others say, yes, they will give it a whirl.

It is the hope of Ghana Assistant Coach George Boateng that the Stars get to coalesce with the new ‘recruits’ ahead of the campaign.

“We are assembling different generations and different cultures into one unit, and making sure they bond quickly during this international break is priority,” he admits in an interview with SuperSport, perhaps, conscious of the fact that a solid output in Qatar is dependent heavily on how far the debutants gel.

That is the expectation of most Ghanaians. They want the Stars to play cohesively well, even if they do not grind the result.

BY JOHN VIGAH

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