Monday, June 28, 2010

Ghana Shows Africa the Way at 2010 World Cup

Ghana shows Africa the way

Nigeria NEXT Editorial
June 28, 2010 03:43AM

It was called Africa’s World Cup and rightly too. For the first time in the eighty-year history of the tournament, Africa was hosting.

Six years ago when world football governing body, the Federation of International Football Federations (FIFA) handed hosting right of the tournament to South Africa, many outside Africa felt FIFA President Sepp Blatter, had made a grave mistake.

The media in Europe in particular launched a campaign aimed at getting FIFA to change its mind arguing that South Africa would not be able to guarantee security for the tournament. Blatter stood firm and South Africa went ahead to host the tournament.

Alongside the faith reposed in South Africa by the football governing body came an expectation that African teams taking part in the tournament should seize the moment and put impressive displays that would justify the confidence reposed on the continent by FIFA.

When the tournament eventually got underway on June 11 in Johannesburg, the performance of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana 1-1 against a young and impressive Mexican squad in their Group A opening game, seemed to suggest that Africa was going to rise to the challenge.

This thinking was given further boost with the performance of other African teams in their opening matches over the next two days. Nigeria led the way with a narrow 1-0 loss to a star-studded Argentine side; Cote d ‘Ivoire led by the irrepressible Didier Drogba held an equally star-glutted Portugal to a goalless draw and then Ghana topped it all with its 1-0 victory over Serbia.

And then it all started unravelling for our continent. By the time the first round of matches ended, only Ghana’s Black Stars were left in the tournament. One after the other, African teams led by Nigeria, which had spent over one billion naira from the period of the qualifiers for the World Cup to the tournament proper, crashed out.

With Africa’s elite teams out of competition, the hopes of an entire continent rested on the shoulders of the young Ghanaian players. Against the United States of America in a second round match played on Saturday in Rustenburg, the lads rose to the occasion edging the determined and ambitious Americans 2-1 in extra time to book a place in the quarter-final in only her second World Cup appearance.

Ghana’s performance at the World Cup is undoubtedly a testimony to the foresight and organisation of both the Ghana Football Federation and coach Milovan Rajevac. When Rajevac came on board in 2008, he embarked on a programme of gradual overhaul of the national team to make way for the injection of younger and talented players in the squad. At the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola in January, he stunned Ghanaians when he took as many as eight of the players who won the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup to the tournament. Many at the time considered the move reckless but given the performance of the players, Rajevac has been vindicated.

Several lessons emerge from Ghana’s outing in South Africa but two are germane here. The first is that there are no short cuts to success. If success must be attained, the right mix of variable must be present. Rajevac had two years to prepare a team Ghanaians and indeed Africa, are today proud of. In the period in between he has had time to make mistakes and correct them. By contrast the football federation of Nigeria and Cote d ‘Ivoire wilfully imperilled the chances of their teams in the tournament. Both countries fired their coaches with a few months to the World Cup leaving the new coaches employed in their stead with either little time to understand existing players or invite new ones.

The second lesson is that commitment to the national cause can propel a team to victory even against the most difficult of odds. Against the USA on Saturday, the Ghanaian players were ready to die on the field. For them, national honour was at stake. Nigerian players by contrast, were listless and uninspiring throughout. They carried on as if it were their nation that owed them a debt of gratitude for their condescending to don our national colours instead of feeling highly honoured to be chosen from the legion of football players in the land to represent their fatherland. That lack of commitment proved our undoing at the World Cup.

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