GHANA AND SUDAN AGAIN IN WORLD CUP QUALIFICATION…what omen does it bring?

Sudan has been a country Ghana has played in several qualifications be it for the continental showpiece or the world cup. Since the incipient times of the Africa Cup of Nations, Ghana and Sudan have battled out in fights for the Africa Cup. Incidentally, Sudan is the first nation to host the Africa Cup of Nations and Ghana apparently beat Sudan in the finals of the 1963 edition to win her first Africa Cup of Nations. I was quite surprised to see Sudan in Group D again for qualification run for the 2014 World Cup. Immediately I saw them in Group D, I tweeted to question why Ghana-Sudan is becoming a regular fixture.

Moment of aberration

It started in the run for one of the five tickets for the Korea/Japan World Cup. Ghana was drawn in the same group as Nigeria, Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. A 5-0 win over Sierra Leone probably lifted hopes of the Black Stars and, by extension, all Ghanaians. A goalless drawn game by an Accra Hearts of Oak-strewn Black Stars squad brought more hopes to many Ghanaians though I bemoaned the result because we had shed points. Liberia came to the Accra Sports Stadium to stun Ghana in a 3-1 win. Therefore, Ghana’s match against Sudan in Omdurman was one the Black Stars took seriously. Indeed, Ghana played well until the final moments when, in a moment of aberration, Sammy Adjei handled the ball outside the 18-yard box. Ghana paid dearly for that as the resultant freekick was converted by Sudan. The return leg had no motivation attached as the result of the match was not going to stop Nigeria from qualifying to Japan/Korea’s World Cup. Captain of the day, Emmanuel Osei Kuffour gave Ghana a 1-0 win at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Omdurman’s vociferous crowd

After a successful debut at the 2006 World Cup, Ghana aimed higher in the qualification for Africa’s first world cup to be held in South Africa. Ghana managed to scale through the second round of qualification though was pegged on the same points as Gabon and Libya in the group. A superior head-to-head, however, dropped Libya from the race. The final and third round presented itself with Sudan, Mali and Benin as Ghana’s opponents. Ghana began with a 1-0 win over Benin at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium. A double-header with Mali and Sudan lifted many hopes and the results boosted confidence in new man Milovan Rajevac. Kwadwo
Asamoah was instrumental in Ghana’s win over Mali but it was Matthew Amoah, who stole the show in Omdurman getting a brace in front of a vociferous crowd. The second leg was gong to seal Ghana’s qualification to South Africa if the result in the other match went our way. In other words, Ghana could qualify with a win over Sudan if Benin and Mali drew. As if by divine providence, Mali and Benin drew 1-1 in Cotonou while Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari gave Ghana a 2-0 win over Sudan. That win was indeed memorable as Ghana made history as the first African nation to qualify for Africa’s first world cup. Ghana also became the first African country to qualify for a world cup with two matches to the end of the qualification run. I am always tempted to say that the lackadaisical attitude with which the Black Stars approached their remaining games might have influenced FIFA, the world governing body of football, and its continental body, CAF, to introduce a two-leg third round for the qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Ghana virtually gifted Benin a last-minute winner and just escaped an ignominy at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium when Anthony Annan equalized for his team when Mali was 2-1 up.

Steady progress

Ghana’s quest to win a nation’s cup in recent times nearly came to fruition in 2010 when the Black Stars were pipped by an 85th minute goal by Egypt. Logically, Ghana had steadily improved their performance in the Africa Cup of Nations since she hosted it in 2008. Ghana placed third in the 2008 Nations’ Cup and came second in the Angola edition. To win next year’s edition, which
will complete the steady progress, Ghana has to cross hurdles posed by Sudan, Congo and Swaziland. Ghana managed very well in the fixtures with Congo and Swaziland but faltered when they came against long-time rivals Sudan. Ghana not only shed points against Sudan but also lost Asamoah Gyan for the next two qualifiers as he was red-carded by South African referee Jerome Damon. Sudan really frustrated the Black Stars. Ghana is just fortunate the return fixture against the Sudanese will be the last qualifier by which time the group may have taken shape.

Sudan to end domination

The war between the two countries has not finished and then they are plunged into another one – qualification for Brazil 2014. Ghana will also play against Zambia and Lesotho or Burundi but Sudan will fight to end the domination Ghana has engendered over them in recent years especially in qualification matches.

Group of death

From June next year, Group D may prove to be war fare as it has already been tagged in some quarters as the ‘group of death’.

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