Ghana’s clash with Egypt next Sunday isn’t really No.1 on anyone’s weekend to-do list, is it?
The game, a classic dead rubber if there ever was one, would have no consequence whatsoever on what is already decided in Group E of Africa’s 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifying series: Egypt’s capture of the sole ticket on offer. A win for Ghana, however huge, would merely see the Black Stars move one up from the third slot they currently occupy — a possibility only on the condition that second-placed Uganda lose their own equally meaningless clash with basement boys Congo.
But that shouldn’t stop Ghana from throwing everything they’ve got left in the tank into putting on quite a show at a stadium — the one in Cape Coast, Ghana’s freshest — they don’t get to play at everyday, should it?
As ace Ghanaian sports journalist Michael Oti Adjei implied in a tweet earlier this week, this is probably the loneliest raft of Ghana national team invitees in a long, long while. Shorn of the usual hype, missing some of their best players (the Ayew brothers have been omitted again, skipper Asamoah Gyan and creative spark Christian Atsu reported but could be sidelined by injury concerns, while in-form emerging force Thomas Partey is suspended), and seemingly with little of true value to play for, it appears this bunch of Stars are a pretty delicate lot.
And, by that, I don’t mean flower-waiting-to-wilt delicate; more like bomb-waiting-to-explode delicate. That much is proven throughout the team’s history, you know, this uncanny habit of turning up big and roaring loudest when the odds don’t look too good. Indeed, it’s especially so with this new and exciting generation of players Ghana boss Kwesi Appiah is willing to entrust with the future of the national team.
Ever since the old guard he relied on for the miserable 1-1 draw at home to Congo in September disappointed, Appiah has fully unleashed a pack of younger and more ambitious players in subsequent qualifiers to blistering effect. These fresh legs have seized the baton hungrily and are already speeding down the tracks at a pace that’s left their more ‘established’ and annoyingly complacent colleagues trailing in their wake while appreciative Ghanaians applaud and cheer.
Congo were slain on their own turf in the return leg, with Uganda only escaping a similar fate courtesy some shocking refereeing. A fairer result on the latter occasion might have left Ghana with a good crack at slipping through to the Mundial heading into the concluding matchday but, as mentioned earlier, it’s no reason for the Stars to hold back and ease off at the finish line. For quite a number of those Appiah has available, the Egypt game would be the biggest deal yet of their international careers, and they’d certainly love to make a statement — to Appiah, to a nation that just doesn’t seem to care anymore, and to the rest of the world — with a strong performance. It would be quite a way for Ghana to sign off a campaign that has brought few joys, and for Appiah to get his project of rebuilding onto some solid momentum.
And Egypt seemingly taking their foot slightly off the pedal — take as a clue the omission of talisman Mohamed Salah, while late injuries to defenders Ahmed Hegazy and Mohamed Abdel-Shafy leaves them noticeably weaker — might make it a bit easier for the hosts. All things being equal, then, a win for Ghana wouldn’t be an unexpected outcome, while an outright thrashing of the Pharaohs isn’t entirely inconceivable either.
It mightn’t be as heavy or as relevant as the 6-1 mauling Egypt got stunned by the last time they visited these shores in hunt for a place at football’s greatest event, but it would be welcome regardless. In other words: don’t bet on a rout, but don’t rule it out either. With these boys, you might just be surprised.
By Sammie Frimpong