Behind-the-scenes in Kumasi: Passion, Chaos, Disappointment

Behind-the-scenes in Kumasi: Passion, Chaos, Disappointment

The whole world has been starved of this unique derby between Nigeria and Ghana. In fact, this eleven-year break between the team’s last meetings (2011-2022) is the longest caesura in both team’s face off since the first ball between both sides was kicked in 1950.

To add to the cravings, the settings for this #JollofDerby was made bigger as a FIFA World Cup finals ticket is dangled as a worthy incentive for whoever claims the bragging rights.

Also making it more interesting is the angle of both sides’ early elimination from the last Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament which makes this straightforward tie bigger than ever.

Both countries put necessary machinery in place to get the best of the tie. Ghana named a new coaching crew, Nigeria “fortified” theirs with extra hands. Nigeria returned the team to capital city Abuja for the first time in eight years while Ghana, after some initial furore returned their team to Kumasi, the supposed slaughter slab.

The first leg of the 2022 edition of this derby was staged on Friday at the Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi. The result is known already as both teams battled out a feisty and calculated 0-0 draw in front of over 40,000 stadium.

Yours sincerely was among ten Nigerian journalists at the stadium and I’d like to hint at some things that went beyond your screens.

The Kumasi stadium and its disappointed congregants

Ghanaians were so desperate to have Friday’s game played at the Baba Yara Stadium, so much so that you are left to wonder if the stadium would turn Jordan Ayew to prime Stephen Appiah or substitute the Afena in Afena-Gyan to Asamoah Gyan.

Both home and abroad, Ghanaians believed that Nigerian players, made up of players playing in the vociferous leagues of Europe would turn to harmattan shrimps under the raucous atmosphere.

Give it to that ground. It has been responsible for some historic Ghanaian results including the 6-1 annihilation of Mohammed Salah’s Egypt years ago. I also remember how Asante Kotoko defeated Kano Pillars 2-0 to eliminate them from the continental competition three years ago, on the same turf.

I admire the passion and zest of Ghanaian fans who filled up the stands very early enough and even caused some delays to the arrival of the Nigerian team to the stadium. Whether that is deliberate or not is to be unraveled but they were there, hitting buses in the Nigerian contingent and making series of expected gesticulations as we made our way to the stadium.

In the midst of their passion lies chaos unplanned for and in the midst of lofty expectations lie disappointment not bargained for. The stadium was filled to the brim. From the popular stands to the VIP section and from the West End to the Media tribune – many stood while there were reported cases of medical emergencies due to the lack of ventilation and stampede at the stadium.

You cannot fault the fans. They came prepared; clad in their yellow tops sprinkled with black blurry stars and hoisting the flag of the nation that has not won the Africa Cup of Nations since I was born. This game represents a chance for them to start all over for the umpteenth time especially against a fierce rival.

With over 400 journalists accredited for the game, it was expected that the rowdiness will be unrivalled. Yes it was. Yours sincerely could not find a seat at the Media Tribune (like other scores of journalists).

Internet was non-existent which ensured that many of us were reduced to mere observers. Even international broadcast mediums could not carry out live commentaries they had obtained rights for. It was a horrendous experience.

The fans’ enthusiasm gradually eroded as the Black Stars only huffed and puffed in front of an organised Nigerian defence. There were spells in the game that the stadium witnessed pin drop silence as the Eagles matched everything thrown at them, so much so that Ghana coach Otto Addo highlighted it at his post-match conference.

“I love the Kumasi fans but one thing in general, when things go right, they’re there. This is good. But in general, a team need their fans most when things go wrong so I think they can improve on that,” said Addo.

Again, you wouldn’t blame the fans, would you? All the pre-game hype, heightened hopes, mind games and banters came crashing down on the night.

Chorus of boos echoed round the stadium when Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew was subbed off after a subdued showing. That was a fitting summary on a night that Ghanaians would pray they forget in a hurry should they lose to Nigeria in Abuja.

Fisayo Dairo was in Kumasi

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