opinionBy Godwin Yaw Agboka
The euphoria that gripped the nation after the Black Stars' qualification to their first ever World Cup competition is indescribable. For some of us who eat and dream football, it was the most fulfilling experience that could ever happen to us.
However, I have to admit that if excitement alone wins matches, then a country such as England should have been winning the World Cup at each competition. Many of us have been very worried about the Stars' preparation towards this year's football's biggest festival. Personally, I have wondered whether our preparations have been commensurate with the passion with which we discuss soccer.
In less than fifty days, the Black Stars will join the 31 other countries to attempt to win a trophy that has for a long time been the preserve of some traditional powerhouses. Sadly, however, our FA has struggled to organize quality friendly matches to fine tune the players for the tournament. Friendly after friendly was announced and just when it was almost time for these matches to be honored, the FA announced a cancellation.
For the records, Ghanaians were told to expect matches with Argentina, Iran, Turkey, and Hanover, yet the closer these events got the easier it became for the FA to announce cancellations. What is the reason behind the cancellation of matches? Isn't it a shame that a World Cup team like Ghana cannot organize a friendly with a quality team that will participate in the same competition, especially when the likes of Togo and Ivory Coast have been successful in that direction? At some point, countries such as Portugal were busily looking for opponents when we continued wallowing in our "faith-based" philosophy of running football.
The game of football has changed so much and preparation is an integral part of any tournament. Now, the football association is running around, hastily organizing matches with less than two (2) months to go. What happened to the numerous trips made by members of the FA?
Looking for the easy way out
It beats my naked imagination why we have blatantly refused to learn some good lessons from the Egypt 2006 debacle. In that tournament, while the likes of Tunisia and other teams had some good preparation, our FA frustrated early camping efforts only to settle for immediately arranged matches with Togo, Tunisia, and Ismaila only for team moral to be dampened. I am told the FA was successful in organizing the previous or even the upcoming friendly matches because their opponents bore/will bear the financial costs.
Sources indicate that the Stars played Saudi Arabia because the Saudis footed the bill [and even paid the Ghanaian contingent], played Mexico because the Mexicans made the call and paid for all the expenses, while they will play Stuttgart because they [Stuttgart] have their own venue, or else that could have led to the cancellation of the match. More so, they will play Jamaica because most of the Jamaicans are based in England, while the FA chose Austria because the Black Stars will be camping at no cost.
While, I am not averse to the FA's choice of Austria over Portugal [for the Stars' camping] it will make no sense if the resources saved could not be channeled into other areas that will contribute to make the team better. Why do we always settle for cheapness and look for the easy ways out? What happened to the funds FIFA gives to all participating teams?
The match coordinator for Ghana's friendlies against Jamaica and Korea noted that Ghana does not have the resources to pay for any stadium to be opened for three weeks, so getting a venue in London proved impossible." He added that Filbert Street, the old football ground for Leicester Football Club was only secured because the rugby team also uses the ground and the rugby league has just begun." Isn't it a shame how the FA has to overburden itself with a few weeks to the fiesta when it had enough time to make adequate, proper arrangements?
The Black Stars, we are told, will play Terek Grozniy on 8 May, before taking on Anji Mahachkala on 11 May in Russia, before the deadline for the submission of the final squad lists for the World Cup. What on earth are the Stars going to do in Chechnya? What were they [the FA] thinking in making such a choice? Were they so desperate they would willingly throw our boys into harm's way without even batting an eyelid? Or it's just a case of very poor geographical as well as socio-political knowledge? More so, why are we playing/touring Europe so close to the World Cup? Why can't we invite the teams to play some of these matches in our Camp base in Austria? Somebody has a lot of explanation to give at the GFA!
Sometime ago, the President of the GFA indicated his organization was going to announce a selection of a 32-man pre-World Cup team from which the coach was going to use as a pool for the selection of a formidable team for the mundial but there has been no commitment to this. As far as I know the Stars would play Stuttgart on the 26th of April and yet the list for the game has been shrouded in secrecy. I strongly am of the view that the running of football in the country is a service to the millions of fans, who own the team. GFA is just managing it for the teeming football loving fans.
I am not surprised then that that FA, including the coach has set, for itself, mediocre targets at the World Cup. How could anyone be content with a mere second round berth after qualifying just as any other team did? An official from the FA comes out to indicate how happy the FA will be should the Stars make it to the second round and the next moment the coach confirms it. In a previous feature article, I catalogued a litany of excuses given by Coach Ratomir Djukovic in the period leading to the Egypt 2006 Nations Cup which were evident in the team's lackluster performance.
It is unfortunate that while the players have consistently indicated their willingness to challenge traditional notions of success at the tournament, the authorities have made nonsense of that with their ego-bruising utterances. Darrel Royal notes that "the only place one can win a football game is on the field. However, though, the only place too one can lose it is in your mind." If we have such a mindset then the Stars might lose their matches even before they get to the field.
As far as I know, with good preparation, our ability to win this cup is as realistic as any of the powerhouses. But like an eagle, the day it belittles itself to the rank a chicken, it will equally begin to act and behave like so. Even though the eagle may have within itself a super flying ability, it would wonder around like the poor chicken. Members of the FA and the coach had better be careful what they say to the media. It is good to set realistic targets but it is even worse to spew out utterances that will affect the morale of the team. Why go to the event when you have such a low level of confidence? I don't think the FA is already admitting its failures and making excuses should our boys fail to deliver.
Who ever believed that Greece could win the European Cup in 2004? Who would believe that Turkey and South-Korea could qualify for the 2002 World Cup semi-finals? Did anybody ever give Cameroon the chance when they played Argentina in the 1990 World Cup? How about performances by other African teams? Back in 1978 The Netherlands was not given a penny's chance at the World Cup, because star-player Cruijff refused to play, yet they made it to the final.
Ghana has a very rich football history that could facilitate its drive for success.
Our problem is that we have a mentality that any little thing should suffice; thus since the Stars will be making their first ever appearance, any performance should be satisfactory. I will always argue that Ghanaians will not settle for mediocrity!