The Ghana Black Stars won their Afcon 2013 group and then beat Cape Verde in the quarterfinals Sunday to make it through to a semi-final later today against Burkina Faso. However, observers online and in Accra report that many fans have been complaining that it is too stressful and they cannot watch the matches and are beginning to shout at the television in frustration. The Black Stars have been winning but have looked far from convincing or dominant. There still seems to be frustration from your average fan that the Ayew brothers and others are not playing. During Ghana’s victory over Niger, a Black Star player was observed talking on a mobile phone while sitting on the bench. This made me wonder who was giving them advice. I think players should be allowed to bring mobile phones onto the pitch so that fans and relatives back home can text them rapid strategy-changes during the match.
In their first match in the tournament, the Democratic Republic of Congo fought back from a 2-0 deficit for a dramatic 2-2 draw against the Black Stars. Not only that, they clearly won the battle of goal celebrations with their goalie Muteba Kidiaba’s viral-going level-changing butt-dancing moves. Ghana’s celebration dances have clearly been planned and coordinated but lack the focus and distinctiveness that critics come to expect. Look for that to change as celebrations are sure to kick into a higher gear for the Semis. I think they are suffering from a post-Azonto uncertainty; with the Azonto dance craze close to running its course, though still alive, clear successors are yet to emerge. Football celebration dances have a long history, dating most explicitly to Cameroonian Roger Milla’s post goal-scoring moves from the 1990 World Cup extending through Asamoah Gyan’s celebrated Azonto inspiring steps in 2010. And Ghanaians have come to be known for their football celebrations. In fact, at World Cup 2010, fans and media from other teams were annoyed by Ghanaians for celebrating too vehemently. After one goal during the group stages as Ghanaian fans danced and sang, a South African commentator quipped with disgust “they dance around like they just won the tournament.”
In Ghana’s 1-0 victory over Mali, Wakaso scores the first Afcon goal of his career on a cool, calm penalty. Afterwards he was cautioned for lifting his jersey to show a t-shirt upon which is written “Allah is Great.” With a previous booking it leads to a suspension. With a blonde stripe down the top of his head and shaved line designs on the sides he brings together a number of the style trends of the Black Stars.
At half-time Pantsil calls a team meeting on the field imploring them with passion. His play has been solid if not spectacular but more importantly he seems to be playing the role of elder-statesman giving guidance and calling for calm and teamwork and strategy. Many of the younger players have noted he has stepped up to play an important leadership role. Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu is again named man of the match for the second time.
A crucial factor in Ghana’s run that received some early attention but seems to have been forgotten is that savvy observers had grave concern that Coach Kwesi Appiah’s fashion troubles affected the team in the first match. His way-too-short tie was the subject of much blogosphere-twitter ridicule. Clearly its presence contributed to DRC’s come back to tie the match. Appiah wearing an open white fashion dress shirt in the second match is an excellent example of an effective coaching adjustment. Appiah stuck with this change for the following matches which seems to have led to great team success.
In the final group stage match Ghana beat Niger 3-0. Kwadwo Asamoah showed great pace with the ball and moved well. Atsu scored a 2nd goal against Niger displaying relaxed control; though to some viewers he has yet to live up to expectations.
Most notable was the sartorial clash of managers against Niger easily won by Appiah who has settled in to wearing his suit and crisp white shirt with swagger and confidence. In contrast, Niger’s coach looked like he hacked the sleeves off his suit jacket in the tunnel on the way to the pitch.
Cape Verde lost to Ghana 0-1 but for much of the second half Cape Verde looked stronger and faster and they certainly won some fans with their play at this tournament.
Fatau Dauda was named man-of-the-match in Ghana’s win. He earned it for a series of brilliant saves that allowed Ghana to go through to the semi-finals. Harrison Afful has earned respect for his defensive play since the first match. He looks in control; and seems a calming presence as when he soothed his goalie after Dauda’s strange hand-ball at top of the goal box against Mali. There are rumors of attention from European clubs. Solomon Asante, the diminutive Ghana-based striker, has also earned some fans with his speed and precision and there are calls for him to get more playing time.
The Black Stars play has mostly been well organized and they have not lost their cool. They have passed and moved well but lacked definitive presence around the goal. On-line disappointment has been fast and brutal with virulent critiques of the lack of offensive focus. I will spare you all the really profane ones but one facebook commentator encapsulated them with “No playmaker No Trophy!! No Second Striker No Trophy!!” While some fans applaud the play of captain Asamoah Gyan for drawing defenders to him and attacking goal, others still have no faith in him and want to see him on the bench. To my mind he is doing well to keep his team focused. Considering the teams remaining in the semifinals, Ghana must remain the favorite to win this tournament, though Nigeria looked strong in its surprising victory over Côte d’Ivoire. I am looking for a Ghana-Nigeria finals with Ghana winning 3-2.