So it used to be an aggressively shameful kind of personal record when it came to the number of football matches I had actually watched on the pitch. Now, however, after watching the last two Black Stars 2014 World Cup Qualifiers at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium, it is only just a pretty shameful personal stat. But it’s not all bad. Football lovers like me, usually defend our behaviours with the fact that we can actually WATCH a game on TV than at the stadium. (See, I’m so sure of that that I call it a fact).
However, Friday’s fixture against the noisily resilient Chipolopolos of Zambia promised to be an entirely different affair from our demolition of Sudan a few months ago at the same venue. The Sudanese came ready to be thrashed and we were only playing the nice host. The Zambians on the other hand…..
Already, the Zambians having beaten us a goal to nil in their home country, had also gone on to beat up a few of our players. (I’m not looking to start trouble here; Derek Boateng said they did). Right from Monday, I could see here and there on twitter, a few tweets about how Ghana was fixing to cheat and how we were rehearsing every shady trick in our bid to qualify to the next stage. Then came Thursday, and it was everywhere that the Zambians had been denied landing at the Kumasi Airport and had had to go back and return to the only international airport in Accra, therefrom proceeding by bus to Kumasi only to be denied access to the pitch for training. And to make a point, the Chipo’s (I get tired of the entire name, however fun it reads and sounds) had trained in a car park near the stadium. And all this had added timely fuelling to an already crackling fire of allegations and accusations.
I was pissed. My mates were pissed. We were so sure we were going to beat the Zambians and their drama. And we couldn’t wait for kick off to shut them up. We’d never played any country that made half as much pre-match noise about allegations that were never ever going to become truth.
Funny enough, at the time, I still didn’t have a ticket! And even before I had had one, there were rumours that the seats were full! You couldn’t blame me when I was agitating for everyone to get up and let’s go to the stadium at 11 am when kickoff was slated for 4pm. And it was only the interest of Rattray’s “Hausa Folklore” that gave me resistance able to resist the pins in my butt till 12 noon. After all, it’s not every day I get to read stories that sort of need encouragement. (Something like: “this is a story about the beetle and the lion. A story, a story. Let it come. Let it go.” the worst opening to folktales ever!!). In the end I was proved right. I know folks who still have their tickets and couldn’t enter the stadium for space. They should have come earlier. This is Ghana.
After sitting in the blazing majesty of our equatorial sun for 2 hours, our visiting fans made their grand entry to our resounding boos. But I’ll give them this: those Zambians have got tough hides! Who the heck just stoops a little and passes their outstretched palm over their head all the while smiling and gyrating when thousands of people are not only booing you for fun but are actually deathly pissed at you?! And they came to sit just right behind me. We booed them, they wiped the top of their heads. We booed their players, they hooted and wiped. So I decided to save my breath.
The game soon started. And even though I missed starting lineups and formations I always get on TV, I could tell that either the Black Stars were playing an outright 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with Gyan running in slightly behind Waris. The Zambians on the other hand, were all about consolidation and had the numbers in midfield. It only added to my nervousness, when we hadn’t had a goal at 13 minutes. I was always hoping for an early goal to put the match in our hands and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Now nobody can attest to this, but I was definitely the first person to jump at the Zambians and execute their excellent head wipe when the first goal came. (And yes, it may not be much, but I’m proud of that). The darned Chipos, they rose up to meet me and head-wiped back at me!
Now I was definitely mad. I really wanted a 2nd goal that very half so I could head-wipe them again!But the goal wasn’t forthcoming. We were outnumbered and being outplayed. Wakaso who should have been our left winger, was acting like he wanted to play attacking centre midfield. Always drifting inward and exposing Afful who was on the day probably ready to bite if it was called for. Asamoah was our Vanishing Man for lengths and lengths of game time, I was actually surprised when he popped up with the scorcher. I didn’t neglect to head-wipe though.
Opare still doesn’t impress me. He didn’t on TV, he sure as heck didn’t to the naked eye. He may have created the 1st goal but that boy is ….okay let’s settle for saying he needs a lot of work. There was that moment when I thought he had conceded a penalty. Seriously, who tackles like Gattuso in their own penalty area?! Jonathan Mensah took some time warming up to the game, but at halfway through the 2nd half, he was looking quite comfortable as a partner Boye. (And I still stand by my opinion that he’s our best centre back minus John Mensah). Gyan was pretty much asleep the entire game, yet he was still on the pitch.
I still have my doubts about coach Kwasi Appiah though. Our game thrives on populating the midfield, keeping the ball and sometimes playing so slowly our opponents are lulled to sleep so that when the unexpected through pass, or beautiful link-up play happens, we get our goal. We just aren’t suited for 4-4-2. But for Essien‘s inspiring presence, the Zambians could well have taken a draw from us.
I was hard-pressed to argue when my new Zambian acquaintance, Kabila, asked me if they didn’t do better than us over the course of the tie. He also explained the head-wipe to me. Apparently, it means the favour of God is hovering over them. Too bad for them, that God was carrying a Ghanaian passport on the day.
In the end, though we won and secured the necessities, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d been somehow outplayed. But Rattray, once again came in handy. (It’s chilling how when each Hausa folktale ends, the speaker calls for the rat’s head. What at all did the rat do to them?!)
Also, we really need a Plan ‘B’. The players need to read the “Counterattacking for dummies” self-help book. Opare should really really not be playing. Asamoah can’t vanish when he plays left back so we play him at left back. We need to keep Afful and either back him up or rotate him with Baba Rahman. And for goodness’ sake, Mr. Kwasi Appiah, just stay off 4-4-2. It’s weird on us! And if you don’t listen, I guess you’ll be our rat soon enough. I should find it within my abilities to play the part of the historian.