AFCON2019: Black Stars fail again, which way forward?

AFCON2019: Black Stars fail again, which way forward?

Out again and the 37-year wait by the Black Stars of Ghana for an Africa Cup Of Nations (AFCON) trophy continues, it will be 39 by the time the next chance comes.

Ghana bowed out of AFCON2019 on Monday after an excruciating penalty shoot-out loss to 2004 champions Tunisia. Daniel Ayala writes to us from Ghana on the pain of yet another unfulfilled dream for the Black Stars and wondering what could have been.

There were some simple facts to point that Ghana could not win this tournament. Ghana have not won the Nations Cup since it required a team to play 6 matches.

It started in 1992 and we were losing finalists (on penalties). Since then, we have lost two more finals, gone out at the semifinal stage 5 times, quarterfinals twice, group stage twice and failed to qualify once. Now we can add one more, a round of 16 exit.

Getting six good games to win the tournament has been beyond us, expanding the tournament to 24 and putting in an extra match made it even more difficult but we fell to an opposition we have never lost to in an AFCON. Penalty is a lottery, yes but it should not have gotten there.

James Kwasi Appiah’s Black Stars play in a weird way.

They try to get the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible yet put so many poor balls into space for forwards to chase on. Wakaso was the best player on the pitch for the 120 minutes. He raised his game when we went down a goal and started passing the ball around. One wonders why he wasn’t doing that more often.

Alain Giresse set up his Carthage Eagles to hold Ghana as long as possible. We were on the front foot for so long yet our coach did not take the opportunity to switch up the attack. Giresse brought on his main creator Khazri and he changed the game and his delightful backheel led to Khenissi’s goal.

Ghana though on the front foot created little. Appiah could have encouraged Samuel Owusu to switch to the left wing, get to the byline and cross. He did not! He kept a left footed player on the right wing. Sam had to mostly check back onto his right and was forced into the crowded middle. Appiah was content with this.

He listened to the cry for Partey to play in a more advanced role, did not work. Not his fault but what is his fault was accepting rushed passes and no building play more efficiently to find a way past the Tunisians.

With Ghana attacking more but not incisively and Tunisia playing deep, coach Appiah waited and waited until his team went behind in the 73rd minute before bringing on Caleb Ekuban in the 75th.

Jordan Ayew was isolated, crowded out a lot, Partey failed to give support but the coach refused to try and win the game.
Nine minutes later, he would bring on Ghana’s record goalscorer, a man with 8 AFCON goals, sat out for 84 minutes before coming on. 84 minutes we were the better side looking to win, the favourites and yet the coach kept him on the bench.

Appiah goofed and this is all on him. He mismanaged games, bottled substitutions, had no style and failed to impose himself. It was a truly sorry sight seeing him on camera just looking clueless. In two years we go again, he should be nowhere near the team. Enough is enough!

Surprises

When the European championships was expanded to 24 teams in 2016, there were many surprises. Wales got to the semifinal. Iceland beat England, Portugal got 3 points from 3 group draws but were champions. So when we followed suit for this AFCON, we all knew there could be surprises right?

We did but the big teams did not and I wonder why. The argument is there is no small team anymore but truth is there are. Watch these teams and their ball control is below average for most players, final decision making leaves a lot to be desired.

Why are they doing so well? Several reasons but sticking to the tourney, it is just a lack of fear and incredible tactical discipline. I have never watched an AFCON where the games were so tactical, where players kept their shapes so well and fell into position to cover each other. You watch South Africa and Benin dump out Egypt and Morocco respectively and it is down to the players having so much mental fortitude.

Madagascar are the fairytale story, led by Andriatsima they really do remind me of Alexandre Dumas’ musketeers.

So now, we have only 8 Afcon titles at the quarterfinals (Nigeria with 3, Ivory Coast 2, Algeria, Tunisia and South Africa have 1 each). Two years ago when it was 16 teams, the quarterfinal stage had a combined 19 titles. Make of that what you will.

Twitter: @deGraftAyala

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