Ghana’s Black Stars shine in Qatar – against all odds

Ghana’s Black Stars shine in Qatar – against all odds
Mohammed Salisu (L) of Ghana celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Fifa World Cup 2022 Group H match between South Korea and Ghana at Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 28 November 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohamed Messara)

Having come into the 2022 Fifa World Cup as the lowest-ranked side, Ghana have beaten the odds and are one win away from reaching the Round of 16.

Heading into the 2022 World Cup, Ghana – of all African qualifiers – was probably the one most disregarded when soccer fans spoke of African teams that could qualify for the knockout stages.

After all, the Ghanaians came into the tournament as the worst team, at least according to Fifa rankings. The Black Stars are ranked 61st in the world, even below host Qatar (who have put up the worst performance of any World Cup host after failing to record even a single point on home soil).

To compound the country’s troubles, they were placed in a group alongside star-studded Portugal, two-time world champions Uruguay, as well as South Korea – who are no pushovers themselves.

As such, the West African nation was well aware of the mammoth task that awaited it in Qatar, where the country’s skipper André Ayew currently plays his football.

“It’s a tough group, no doubt about it. The first match is against Portugal who are one of the favourites in the tournament, but we are ready,” Ayew, who has represented the likes of West Ham and Marseille in his career, told Ghana’s Graphic prior to the World Cup.

“As I said, we have the players, we have the quality and the staff to help us go through this. But if you look at all the teams, they are ranked higher by Fifa than us. So, on paper they are favourites and we are the underdogs. We take it like that.”

The fact that they put up a disastrous showing at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in comparison to the other four African representatives in Qatar, compounded the notion that they would be the whipping boys of Group H, and one of the worst-performing participants in this latest edition of the quadrennial global showpiece.

At Afcon earlier this year, the Black Stars finished last in a group from which they were expected to automatically qualify for the knockout stages, alongside north African highflyers Morocco – with minnows Gabon and Comoros finishing above them.  

During their disappointing Afcon run, they failed to record a single victory, losing to the Atlas Lions of Morocco in the opening game, before a draw with Gabon and then an embarrassing defeat to the Comoros.

In fact, even their ticket to the World Cup was a matter of fine margins. 

The Black Stars edged Nigeria on the away goals in the playoff stage of the qualifiers to reach the tournament. In the preceding group phase, the West Africans required a controversial win over South Africa to proceed to the final Qatar qualification hurdle – on most goals scored (after finishing level on points and goal difference with Bafana Bafana).

Players of of Ghana celebrate while Cho Gue-sung of South Korea lies dejected on the pitch after the Fifa World Cup 2022 Group H match between South Korea and Ghana at Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 28 November 2022. Ghana won 3-2. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Abir Sultan)

Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring their team’s first goal during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Ghana at Stadium 974 on 24 November 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: Julian Finney / Getty Images)

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New life, new faces

Having observed the danger of heading to the World Cup in that meek state, the Ghana Football Association grabbed the bull by the horns and embarked on a recruitment drive to entice the county’s European-based diaspora to represent the Black Stars. This, in order to breathe new life into the flailing national team.

Some of these players included Brighton & Hove Albion defender Tariq Lamptey, Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams and Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu.

“The fact that they considered themselves as Ghanaians and are ready to play for Ghana means they are welcome. We’ll open the door for anybody that can help us achieve something and for the long term. They should come with the right heart and the right idea and everyone will welcome them into the team,” Ayew said to Graphic on the new recruits in the build-up to the World Cup.

“I know that some people are saying that they have come because of the World Cup. But honestly, we will never know (the real motive),” continued Ayew. “What we know is that now they have decided to come.

“If they have the right determination to die for the team from the first minute to the 90th minute during the World Cup and after the World Cup… we are going to open every door that we have to make them as comfortable as they can be… because these are quality players.”

Since then, each of the aforementioned players has proven their worth. They did so as Ghana held their own during a 3-2 loss to Portugal in their opening match and then proceeded to do so again as the West Africans beat South Korea by the same scoreline.

Williams, who had represented Spain at under-21 level before playing for their senior national team in 2016, said that pledging his allegiance to Ghana had made one of his family members ecstatic.

“My 90-year-old grandfather told me that it would be a dream for him to see me play for the Ghana national team. That cleared up any doubts. Fulfilling that for my grandfather decided it… I have made my whole family very happy and I represent what is in my blood,” shared Williams, who was born in Spain to Ghanaian parents.

Williams’ grandfather will be even more pleased if the Black Stars can shine bright against Uruguay, with whom they have a score to settle after the sides’ controversial clash at the 2010 World Cup, which was hosted by South Africa.

The two sides butt heads on Friday at 5pm and a win for the Africans will see them exact revenge on the South Americans. More importantly, a win for Ghana will guarantee them a place in the round of 16 – against all odds. DM


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