Roger Milla’s statement
Rumours have it that Ghana’s qualification to her maiden world cup in 2006 was inexplicably ‘aided’ by the Confederation of African Football’s President, Issah Hayatou. In an interaction with an ex-Black Stars player, I was told that former President John Agyekum Kuffour expressed his desire to the long-reigning Cameroonian football administrator to see Ghana at a world cup. Issah Hayatou, as it were, showed his commitment to see to the desire of ex-president Kuffour come to fruition by stating that he will see to it that ‘good’ referees were assigned to Black Stars matches for the Germany 2006 qualifying series. Well, this is all hearsay but as it turned out Ghana lost only one match in that campaign. Indeed, getting to that world stage in Germany shot the Black Stars into the limelight as an African nation with delectable football skills. At that world cup, the Black Stars had to lose only to two significant champions – the defending ones, Brazil, and the eventual ones, Italy. That performance only corroborated Roger Milla’s statement made years earlier when Cameroon dazzled the world on their world cup debut. Milla mentioned that if the world was impressed with the showing of the Indomitable Lions, then they were yet to marvel. He said the best from the African continent is yet to come and that they should wait till a ‘small’ West African country named Ghana gets to that stage. Roger Milla’s statement was well justified at the 2006 World Cup, where Ghana became the only African nation to have made it out of the group stage.
Since then Ghana has been the toast of football fans in the world and the Black Stars are mentioned among the giants of African football. No wonder, qualification to the ‘African’ world cup rather came with the setting of a record in the continent’s qualifying – securing qualification with two matches to go. Well, Ghana also became the first African country to qualify ON MERIT for the South Africa 2010 World Cup. Ghana’s performance in South Africa was equally not bad as the Black Stars only lost one match in regulation time – the 1-0 defeat to Germany. Indeed, the Black Stars made more friends than enemies at that world cup. Among these friends were the continent’s referees.
‘The referee was not fair’
African referees, who were part of the Black Stars fan base, got to know Ghana’s players. The Black Stars, immediately after the world cup, were among the continent’s few players whose names were mentioned by centre referees while officiating their matches. Anytime, the Black Stars played on the African continent, the referees go as fair as possible. The ranting that “the referee was not fair to us” became a thing of the past though Ghanaian clubs, whose players were not very much known to these same referees, complained of bad officiating. Indeed, the Black Stars made matters so simple for most renowned African referees that even when the Black Stars lost, blame was not rained on the referee. I have witnessed a referee like South Africa’s Jerome Damon mention names like Michael [Essien] and [Asamoah] Gyan while officiating different Ghana matches.
Ghana vs Zambia
Unfortunately, the Black Stars seem to be recoiling into the erstwhile quagmire of not being fairly treated by referees on the field of play. The 2014 World Cup qualifying match between Zambia and Ghana at the newly-built Levi Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola, Zambia came out as one of the unfairly officiated matches. The match was officiated by Med Said Kordi from Tunisia. His calls on the field of play, especially in the dying embers of the match, left much to be desired. It was just obvious that Ghana has lost it with the Tunisian. Indeed, the bias officiating provoked Ghana’s Derek Boateng and some other players to confront Referee Kordi, who was shielded by Zambian Police officers. The officers reportedly went to the extent of pummeling Boateng and Ben Acheampong. Well, video evidence has shown otherwise though. Incidents on the field of play should be a signal to the Black Stars that the Chipolopolo of Zambia may have taken Ghana’s place as Africa’s darling club. Hence, the favour they had.
But another worrying situation was the unfair treatment the officers of Football Association of Zambia(FAZ) gave to their counterparts from Ghana. It’s been long since I heard that Ghana’s FA contingent has been mistreated. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened in Ndola. Few provisions were made for Ghana’s contingent and those provisions turned out demeaning as some Ghana FA executive members and Edward Omani-Boamah, Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, were forced to sit among ordinary fans. Of all African countries, Zambia would have been the least expected to mete such a treatment out to Ghana as a result of the camaraderie between the two nations. The warmth with which Ghanaians greet Kalusha Bwalya, President of FAZ, for instance, anytime he is in Ghana should have been a reminder of that camaraderie. I hear the Ghana FA is even contemplating lodging a complaint (against that action) with the Confederation of African Football. I guess the question you will want to ask is when was the last time Ghana toyed with the idea of faulting another country for mistreatment in football? Is it the beginning of the end? My candid advice to the new technical men and the players is that they are losing favour with referees and the earlier they uplifted their game the better for them and the nation as a whole. Victory comes from playing well and converting chances on the field and not how a referee officiates a match.