Over the last eight years the football paradigm has shifted. Some 10-12 years ago, Brazil beating Spain would not have been news. But Spain have been the best team in the world recently, entertaining us all with their ruthless finishing and yes sometimes boring and depressing (i.e. if you are the opponent) yet effective passing game. Hate them or love them, they have been, many a time, breathtaking.
What is it to us Africans you may ask? Well what was the “Cold War” to us, or the political doctrinal war of Capitalism vs. Socialism or the recent credit crunch crisis in the US and Europe vs. the economic rise of China? What was all that big pile of rubbish to us? If these very VERY trivial issues were somehow of concern, then obviously this football philosophy war was of “state of emergency” proportions. As always, we were waiting, to see who triumphed, and then we would have sent a high powered government delegation, including all the deputy ministers and their secretaries to negotiate and engineer a “football loan”. Sometimes to show just how serious we take matters here, the ministers might invite along siblings and aunties and then throw in a few side girlfriends for good measure. My little brain is yet to find out why the wives never make this trip. But jeez! The whole world was interested, not just us.
So somewhere in Accra, as I sat under my mango tree, shirt off, a pot of palm wine set beside me, I was totally oblivious to the shock all around me. Africa’s last remaining representative at the just ended FIFA U20 world cup, Ghana, had just been defeated by France in the semis. Whiles I sat reflecting on the decision (which way for Ghana football – tiki taka or joga bonito), I tried to block out the noise coming from my radio and other social network platforms. I served up two calabashes full of the very tasty local delight, the first of which I gulped down in 3 “Usain Bolt” seconds.
Many were in pain and heartbroken. Me, I could care less because I didn’t rate this team at all. Make no mistake I would have developed a sudden case of what the Japanese call “hikikomori”, totally unable to show my face in public had this Satellites team gone on to win the trophy. I was very critical and admittedly sometimes my criticisms were a little over the top. Having followed them from the African championship, I was not convinced Ghana had the right team to challenge for the world title.
Perhaps I had been spoiled by the exploits of the 2009 title-winning group which was brimming with talent and quality. Led by current coach Selas Tetteh, that team is in sharp contrast to this very one. Style, substance, talent, competition for places, that Satelllites team had it all in abundance. I looked at this year’s team and I couldn’t see all that. There was something missing. Turns out we had no quality in defence, shipping 12 goals in 7 games. And the midfield…well liken that to an African government’s economic policy – virtually non-existent.
Coach Tetteh himself had come under severe attack from Ghanaian football fans. You would be surprised the things you would hear about a world cup winning coach. Honestly that man gets little credit than he deserves and I have had to change my opinion about him after this tournament. A 3rd place finish, 1 golden boot and a bronze ball winner and the team had more than achieved. Particular moments during games have “discredited” all those assertions about luck being Borbor’s (as he is affectionately called) biggest asset.
“It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”- Lord Illingworth. Ok so I lied a little. Borbor will always be second choice for me. It is difficult to argue against him, YES, because his record (at least at the U20 level) speaks for itself. But his tactics just do not sit well with me. Take for instance the striker situation of this team going into the tournament. You will be a brave man to place your girlfriend on the betting table and convince me that Selas knew who his best striker was between Boakye-yiadom and Assifuah.
Boakye didn’t start the first game because we were told he may have been fatigued. Then he comes off the bench to grab a consolation goal against France, in a game the Satellites were so poor, my wisdom tooth ached. So suddenly he was chosen to start ahead of Assifuah in the next game against Spain. Then Boakye has an average game so he is subbed and on comes Assifuah…the rest is history. Heck, Selas Tetteh’s rotation policy will have Rafa Benitez sit up in his sofa and take some notes. Rotation policy – yes you could call it that or it could simply be that the man was just practicing the old fashioned try and error (try your luck)
But of course no coach or manager will say “that is what I am doing”. So some pretty amazing explanations were served up. Apparently it was all in Borbor’s plan that we play poorly in the opening two group games against France and Spain, that way we learn some valuable lessons, beat the USA (which we always do), convince Egypt to win by 2 goals to 1 and not 3, meet up with Chile, come close to losing, then score a winning goal with 15 seconds to go. All just to book a semi-final date with France again. Isn’t all this just brilliant? Oh, and you dare not mention luck.
You simply cannot fall in love with this team. You do so at your own peril. Ebenezer Assifuah may know his way to goal; the prayer is he is the striker we’ve been waiting for. Aboagye’s nimble feet and intelligence gives hope and Baba Rahman’s maturity is reassuring. Whiles Duncan seems to have the midas touch, Boakye’s confidence answers prayers and Odjer is still only 16, yes just 16. Acheampong may look like a 35year old Messi and Antwi’s looks, quite refreshing. Yet I am not inspired.
Well, I have warned against falling in love with this team. Forget that the team beat all expectations. We also threw away an impressive record of having not lost a group game at this level. Oscar Wilde’s annoying yet humorously self conceited character, Lord Illingworth couldn’t have put it better in the book, ‘Woman of no Importance’- “When one is in love one begins by deceiving oneself. And one ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance”. Besides I need not tell you what too much salt does to your hot goat pepper soup, do I? Let’s call them a “Team of no Importance” then, shall we or too harsh???
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