The visit of the Likuena or the Crocodiles of Lesotho only reminds some of us of the bizarre incident in 2008 when Ghana hosted the South Africans at the Sekondi-Essipong Sports Stadium. It was the last match in the second round qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup. Interestingly, the incident has left a seemingly indelible scar on Ghana’s reputation in the organization of matches involving the Black Stars at home. Even from the grapevine, the world governing body of football, FIFA, has placed a ban on the Essipong Stadium in hosting an international match pending the Ghana Football Association’s voluntary submission of a report on incidents around that Ghana-Lesotho qualifier. For those who don’t know or, perhaps, may have forgotten, there was a case of stampede at the stadium as fans run over one of the gates to gain entry into the stadium. Fifteen soccer fans got injured while a reported three lost their lives.
Nevertheless, Ghana perpetuated a tradition of dominance over the South Africans by beating them 3-0. Goals from Sulley Ali Muntari, who is likely to captain the team on Friday, Junior Manuel Agogo and Matthew Amoah secured a win in the Black Stars’ first match at the Western Regional biggest sport facility. That result also propelled Ghana to the top of a group that had two other nations, Libya and Gabon, on the same points. Fortunately, Ghana and Gabon made it through as a result of superior points from a resultant mini-league.
That was not the first time the Basotho were here. They had played against the Black Stars at the Kumasi Sports Stadium in an epic Mali 2002 Cup of Nations qualifier. Both teams had settled for a 3-3 draw in the first leg and Ghana sought a win in order to make it to Mali after co-hosting the previous Cup of Nations tournament. The Crocodiles played it hard at the Kumasi Sports Stadium whacking and hacking the Stars. A limping Stephen Appiah broke the deadlock after his perfectly-effected free kick just outside the penalty area caught the Basotho goalie flatfooted. That superb goal from Stephen Appiah, his last converted free kick for the Black Stars, opened the floodgates while Baffour Gyan and Charles ‘Beyie’ Amoah completed the damage. The South Africans had a consolation though.
A frantically-arranged friendly match in October, 2002 at the Accra Sports Stadium saw the Black Stars beat Lesotho 2-1. That match was far short of a friendly as the Crocodiles gave the Stars a good run for their money. They took the match more serious than agreed. Indeed, it was the first for most players under ‘new’ coach Emmanuel Kwasi Afranie, who played some of the silver-winning Argentina 2001 U-20 World Cup squad. A non-drop from experienced Peter Ofori Quaye, however, secured the vital winner.
Ghana is yet to play in Maseru since that 3-3 draw in 2001 as the previous opportunity to play in their capital slipped by. The match was moved to Republic of South Africa’s judicial capital – Bloemfontein – because of a renovation of the stadium in Maseru.
Nevertheless, the Crocodiles, like most burgeoning African football nations, want to pull surprises over the so-called African footballing giants. They scaled through the first round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers over São Tomé and PrÍncipe. Lesotho were part of the few countries that started the road to Brazil 2014 on the continent. They played while the Black Stars and co were in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. They are also part of the few African nations that benefited immensely from FIFA’s ‘Win in Africa for Africa’ projects, a legacy from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup.
It is against this background that qualifying for Brazil 2014 will be a pressing demand for Lesotho. They are aware of the favourites tag over Ghana and Zambia and may take advantage by spoiling the party for one. Unfortunately, Ghana is farther from them than Zambia is and so when it comes to who they are likely to play soft against, your guess is as good as mine. As a result, the Black Stars need to go all out by beating them on Friday. Happily enough, the current crop of players are not mathematically inclined like their predecessors sometime back and so would not want to be drawn in a situation where they would have to do that erstwhile ‘Ghanaian football mathematics’ in order to qualify. Qualification starts now.
Fortunately for Ghana, Botswana put spokes in the wheels of preparations of Lesotho by trouncing them 3-0 last week in a friendly in Gaborone. The Black Stars need to take advantage of that, all-be-it cautiously, and inflict defeat on them. They should not break that savouring record of a win for a coach who plays Lesotho in his first match. In fact, in this group which boasts of two past African champions – Sudan and Ghana – and the current champions –Zambia– maximum points must be taken from Lesotho.