Playing Sudan in a World Cup qualifier may have been a welcoming experience for Ghana in recent times.
Ghana’s record qualification to the 2010 World Cup was chalked on the back of back-to-back wins over the Falcons of Jediane, formerly known as the Nile Crocodiles, though Mali and Benin gave the Black Stars a good run for their monies. Ghana recorded 2-0 wins over Sudan to become the first African side to book a place, on merit, for the first African World Cup. The team had two matches more to even play then. Shortly, after that, Ghana was paired with Sudan again for qualification for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. That one became a little bit difficult for the Black Stars as Kwesi Appiah’s first role as a stop-gap coach jolted the nation’s quaest to be in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea as the Sudanese came to Kumasi to hold their own against the Black Stars. The match ended 0-0 with Asamoah Gyan even getting a marching order from South African referee Jerome Damon. It took Goran Stevanovic to squeeze out another 2-0 win in Khartoum to give Ghana a ticket to a tournament which became his hamartia.
As a result of these recent victories over Sudan, many football fans and Black Stars loyalists have forgotten a painful incident handed the country in the qualification for the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup.
Ghana found itself in Group B of the continental qualification together with Nigeria – who eventually qualified from the group under a controversial 3-0 win over Ghana – Liberia, Sudan and Sierra Leone. Though Ghana started the campaign well with a 5-0 win over Sierra Leone, marking the swansong of Italian tactician Guiseppe Dossena and the debut for the current captain Asamoah Gyan, the Lone Stars of Liberia inflicted a painful 3-1 defeat on the Black Stars at the Accra Sports Stadium in the country’s second qualifier in that campaign. It was one of the World Cup qualifiers the country had entrusted in the hands of a local coach, Sir Cecil Jones Attuquayefio. Attuquayefio’s subsequent 0-0 draw against the dreaded Super Eagles side at the Accra Sports Stadium was hailed by many as a result of the 2000 African Champions League winning squad of Hearts of Oak paraded in the starting 11. The Nigerians might have laughed at the good side of their mouths as they took one point away with them as Ghanaians continued to shower praises on the scoreline.
The country’s chase for a long-time dream of appearing at the world stage went down to the wire in a match against the then Nile Crocodiles at the Al-Merreikh Stadium in Omdurman, the venue for Friday’s crucial World Cup qualifier. Ghana had held their own against the Sudanese until the 70th minute when a moment of aberration on the part of goalkeeper Sammy Adjei saw the then Israel-based player handle a ball just outside the penalty area. The resultant indirect free kick gave Sudan a vital winning goal, shattering Ghana’s dreams of having any chance of making it to the World Cup. I remember listening to commentary on Radio Gold then and the commentator – Tony Owusu Amofah of blessed memory – described the Ghanaian players including captain Emmanuel Duah as having given up the ghost.
That situation is what I want Kwesi Appiah and his charges to beware of. The 4-0 win over Sudan at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in March this year completely washed out Appiah’s blues on his debut handling of the Black Stars. But to win the confidence of some of us Appiah must deliver in Omdurman on Friday. It is a fact that the former Black Stars captain has won crucial away matches but the next three matches in 2014 World Cup qualifiers are going to be more crucial than that 1-0 loss to Zambia in Ndola last year. So the earlier Mr Appiah’s hackles are raised concerning the enormity of the tasks ahead the better.