Ghana's 'Black Stars' look to shine

My first encounter with Ghanaian football came in the unlikely setting of a marquee in the shadow of the Giza Pyramids in Cairo.

by
    The 'Black Stars' enjoy a passionate following at home

    It was the venue for the increasingly common spectacle that is the football fashion show. Amongst various other items of stretch to fit lycra, the Ghana World Cup kit was to be launched.

    It is fair to say the upper echelons of the fashion world were not in attendance.

    While our MC for the night - no less than Hugh Quarshie, star of the UK hospital-based soap-opera Holby City - spoke into his microphone to a disinterested audience of distracted football officials, I did what most journalists would do in my position: I headed to the buffet. There I found a small band of like-minded reporters from Ghana.

    GHANA FACTFILE

    Nickname: The Black Stars

    Previous World Cup appearances: 0

    Star player: Michael Essien

    One told me that in a way this was the perfect introduction to Ghanaian football. "A chaotic event, that promises much but delivers little. Our team is like one of those shirts," he said gesticulating towards the stage where Mr Quarshie was still trying to generate interest in a ‘new era of African sports casual wear’.

    "It looks quite good now but I bet it falls apart just when you need it most." 

    Ghana have long been one the strongest teams in Africa.

    Four times they have had their name on the African Cup of Nations. But for more than 40 years they had always missed out when it came to the World Cup.

    Religion

    Ghana's Michael Essien (R) carries
    the hopes of his nation

    It was a statistic Kwesi Nyantekyie, who is in charge of the game in this football mad country, was only too aware of.

    "Football is not so much a sport in Ghana as a religion," he told me.

    "When we win games there is no better job in the world to have, but when we lose…." He paused, sighed deeply and allowed his eyes to roll skywards. "When we lose, well, it feels like the whole nation is in mourning."

    The coach in charge of handling that level of expectation is the Serb, Ratomir Dujkovic. He has the pre-requisite thick skin to handle the task and talks with a mischievous smile about his delight at introducing a bit of 'Balkan discipline' into the team.

    "Before me the side were a team of individuals. Now they are together. Maybe in the past there have been more star players, but there has never been a better Ghanaian team than this one."

    Serb coaches have a habit of travelling to some of the further flung parts of the world to pick up their paycheque and Dujkovic is no exception.

    Career peak

    In Ghana football is played on
    almost every available space

    He made his name on the coaching staff of the Red Star Belgrade side that won the European Cup in 1991.

    He’s since been found managing sides in the Middle East, Venezuela, Myanmar and Rwanda. Now aged 60, he is in no doubt that his career is at its peak.

    "During the qualifiers it felt like the other African sides were sleeping," he said. "But we were awake and ready. Now the people of Ghana and the team have the reward they deserve."

    It hasn’t all been mutual back-slapping and fashion shows since they qualified. There has also been a disastrous showing at the African Cup of Nations.

    Dujkovic almost lost his job, but in a rare outbreak of African footballing restraint he escaped the sack.

    The coach celebrated that reprieve by making big changes. 10 different players are in his World Cup squad, including Chelsea’s Michael Essien, Africa’s most expensive player, back after injury.

    Even with Essien on board, the task facing Ghana in Germany is immense. T

    hey are in a group with Italy, the Czech Republic and the USA, all teams who would view Ghana as being their weakest opponents.

    The odds do not look good for them but their kit, I am assured, will be a delight.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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