Thirty-three years and counting, Ghana’s reasons for better adventures at the Nations Cup remain alive, despite shootout loss to Cote d’Ivoire
As the rains poured in Bata and Jonathan Mensah slipped in taking Ghana’s sixth spotkick, Avram Grant must have felt a shudder; one that reminded him of a certain night, nearly seven years ago, halfway around the world.
Mensah scored and the rains eased, but, quite regrettably, whatever that chill reminded Grant of did come to pass. Razak Brimah’s lessons in ‘how not to take – or save – a penalty’ ultimately undid Ghana, as did misses from Afriyie Acquah and Frank Acheampong. Indeed, as the shootout stretched from five apiece into double digits, you couldn’t help but harbour a sense of déjà vu. A very bad one.
If you aren’t old enough to have seen the duel between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire some 23 years ago in Dakar of which we heard so much during the build-up, Sunday thriller ensured you didn’t miss much.
“Too identical for comfort,” my dad initmated as the night wore on.
The balance during 120-odd minutes of open play and after extra-time swung as often and intensely as you’d expect in a contest between two teams so evenly matched.
Ghana struck the woodwork twice, took a two-goal lead early in the series of penalties, and should feel hard done by yet another shootout loss. Long after the tears dry and the battle scars wear off, though, Ghanaians would be reminded of the reality that their decades-long Afcon trophy drought just got extended some more. Until that thirst is quenched, there’d only be more tears and scars. Harsh, but true.
For their western neighbours, Cote d’Ivoire, goalkeeper ‘Copa’ Barry, (who rose from being Sylvain Gbohouo’s deputy throughout the tournament to running a one-man rescue mission in the final), saw his heroics in goal and from the spot truly scratch a 23-year itch which had gotten especially irritating for Les Elephants at recent editions of the Nations Cup, thus robbing Grant of a perfect start to his Ghana coaching career, Kwesi Nyantakyi and John Mahama of a potential campaign message, and the Ghanaians of a reason to believe the nightmarish memories from the 2014 Fifa World Cup are well and truly over.
Well, perhaps the latter, the final’s outcome regardless, is already guaranteed. Few – even among their own countrymen – gave the Stars a chance of reaching as far as they did, particularly after that awful opening display against Senegal. Heck, even the GFA believed the side could do no more than ‘go and do well’. Yet they exceeded such lowly expectations, improving as the competition progressed, eventually missing out on the prize via what certainly must be the cruelest means of separating a sport’s winners from its losers, but providing proof that the future of Ghana football on the international stage, with a group so youthful and passionate, could only be blissful. For what its worth, they enjoyed a clean sweep of the individual awards on offer: Andre Ayew for ‘Highest Scorer’, Kwesi Appiah for ‘Fair Play’, and the brilliant Christian Atsu for both ‘Man of the Competition’ and ‘Best Goal’.
Chins up, then, Ghana.
This Afcon experience taught us more about the future than the present; a very bright future, that is.
Going forward, the only way is up.
By Sammie Frimpong