Special Preview: Sam Okaitey
IT will be 45 years since Ghana first ruled the continent in terms of soccer, 30 years since Uganda’s Philip Omondi entered the elite club of African goal kings and the 26th time a team will be making the attempt to win the Africa Nations Cup on home soil.
In all those twists and turns in the history of African football, as well as the three weeks of football drama to begin unfolding from Sunday, Ghana has provided the common ground.
Not only that.
Generations of its national team, the Black Stars, have amassed fortunes in individual and collective badges and honours, enough to position Ghana as one of the epicentres of the game in Africa.
Apart from the Black Stars’ reputation as four-time African champions (an honour they share with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun and bettered only by Egypt), Ghana is also home to C.K. Gyamfi, Jones Attuquayefio and Abedi Pele, three of the players who have been immortalised in the all-time history of the Nations Cup.
After earning distinction at Fortuna Dusseldorf in 1960 as the first black African to play in the German league, C.K. Gyamfi returned to Africa to become the first coach to win the Nations Cup three times before he was joined by the Egyptian coach El-Gohari.
Researchers are still trying to find out whether any African player has equalled Attuquayefio’s record as the only player to have featured in three final matches of the Nations Cup finals, as well as that of Abedi Pele, the three-time African Best Player, who made his Nations Cup debut in 1982 and exited the grand show 16 long years later at the 1998 finals in Burkina Faso.
The list can be expanded to include the achievements of African best players like Ibrahim Sunday and Abdul Razak, as well as the astonishing skills of Mohammed Polo.
These are some of the living ‘monuments’ African football can still point at to illustrate its glorious history. And they live here in Ghana.
It is, therefore, not for nothing that, for the fourth time in the 51-year history of the Nations Cup in Africa, Ghana is once again the preferred destination (out of 53 other choices) for the grandest event in continental football tourism.
From the opening ceremony at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium on Sunday, it will be showtime again on familiar terrain for the national teams of Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Nigeria, The Sudan, Cameroun, Angola, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Namibia, Zambia, Morocco, Tunisia, Benin and South Africa.
As the host nation, four-time champions and making its 16th appearance in the tournament, Ghana has been tipped by the bookmakers to win the trophy for the fifth time.
That prediction is bolstered by the impressive performance of the Black Stars at the 2006 World Cup tournament in Germany, being the only African team to advance to the 1/16th stage of the competition.
However, Ghana’s chances of winning the cup on home soil are likely to hit a snag with the absence of influential captain, Stephen Appiah, as a result of injury, unless Head Coach Claude Le Roy finds a perfect replacement for the skipper.
As usual, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun, who have also won the trophy four times but who will be making their 15th appearance, are one of the tournament favourites.
The Indomitable Lions have the guts, character and players to succeed in Ghana 2008, and with the recovery from injury of Barcelona striker, Samuel Eto’o Fils, they look set to roar and devour any opposition on their way to the ultimate prize.
One team that many football fans will love to watch at Ghana 2008 and which have the pedigree to win the tournament are the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire.
Making their 17th appearance in the competition, the Elephants are arguably the finest team in Africa today, and given their good performance at Germany 2006 and the star profile of the team, with players like Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue and Didane, the Elephants can subdue all opponents to win the trophy for the second time in history.
Defending champions, Egypt, with an unparalleled record of five trophies and making their 21st appearance at the Nation’s Cup finals, are another strong contender to the cup, but the current form of the Pharaohs may push them out of contention.
As two-time champions and with an abundance of talent, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, as in previous tournaments, look favourites in Ghana 2008. If the Super Eagles are able to avoid complacency and have tenacity of purpose, they can avoid the pitfalls this time round and lift the cup for the third time.
Tunisia and Morocco have similar credentials and fate. Apart from being North African countries, they have won the trophy once apiece and are making their 13th appearance in the tournament. Their common fate is that they are not in strong contention for the ultimate.
The Sudan and South Africa also share some similarities — they have won the trophy once apiece, they are making their seventh appearance and they have little chance of winning the trophy.
Senegal have never won the cup before and as they make their 11th appearance, the Lions of Teranga are likely to live up to their billing as perennial under-achievers.
Angola, making its sixth appearance; Guinea, ninth appearance; Mali, fifth appearance; Namibia, second appearance; Zambia, 13th appearance, and Benin, second appearance, have also not won the cup before and it is not likely they will be able to change that fate in Ghana 2008.
Preparations for the tournament, spearheaded by the Local Organising Committee (LOC), have been intense.
All the four stadia for the matches have been put in good shape in readiness for action. They are the refurbished Ohene Djan and Baba Yara Sports stadia in Accra and Kumasi, respectively, both with a seating capacity of 44,000, and the Tamale and Sekondi-Takoradi stadia, either of which has a seating capacity of 21,077.