AFCON 2022 has kicked off in Cameroon and the Black Stars are in attendance for the umpteenth time. They go again in search of a four decade elusive trophy. Not many people think Ghana can end the drought just yet. After the last win in 1982, three final appearances have proven futile in 1992, 2010 and 2015. As co-host in 2000 and outright hosts in 2008, the jinx could still not be broken.
Bragging rights have long been lost. Cameroon are one title better than Ghana with five, and Egypt are champions seven times. Quite honestly, both countries stand better chances of winning this tournament than Ghana. The Black Stars are in group C with Morocco, Comoros and Gabon. Qualification out of this group is not a given for Ghana. A tough date with Morocco awaits, a tricky duel with Gabon lurks and a seemingly rosy game against Comoros is anticipated.
This AFCON may have just come a touch too early for the Black Stars. It is a team in reconstruction, one that is fighting hard for two reasons. First is to raise fallen standards and readmit themselves back into the elite league of continental giants. Second is to reignite the love affair they once had with their fans. There has been lost love over the years, primarily down to poor performance and off-field issues.
The return of coach Milovan Rajevac has done that revival a world of good. In hindsight, it sounds fair to suggest the GFA kept faith with former coach C.K Akunnor for more than necessary. Coach Milo, upon return, led the team to the World Cup qualification playoffs to be honoured in March. Not only that, there is renewed energy and belief in camp. But, just how appreciable are energy and belief in the forward march of the team?
There is still some catching up to do. As the Black Stars descended the pyramid of greatness, others maintained their statuses whilst some ascended. Like aforementioned, Egypt and Cameroon are heads and shoulders above in the pecking order. Senegal and Algeria have risen in leaps and bounds and the latter are defending champions. Ivory Coast may have lost steam lately but they seem to shade it over Ghana. Famous rivals Nigeria are brimming with confidence rather meritoriously and a host of others look unpredictable.
Now what is the fate of the Black Stars in this AFCON? No amount of patriotism must force anyone to declare them favourites for the title. They are not. They are perhaps dark horses. They are cloacked in some uncertainty though. A good number of players are debutants this term. Two things are involved; it either beats up the drum of inexperience or becomes the springboard to bounce back from. A few experienced players are in there to complement.
There is a positive in not being regarded as favourites. It slows the guage of the pressure pot. It affords convenience. If team Ghana must prove everyone wrong, its youngsters must come to the party. Mohammed Kudus and Kamaldeen Sulemana are potent weapons. Ghana’s most exciting talent Fatawu Issahaku, reigning U-20 AFCON best player, is a wild card. The skies of Ghana must release rain to end the drought. Can this crop of players gather dark clouds up there? We will see.
Yours in the beautiful game