Tuesday’s draw for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament saw Ghana’s Black Stars planted in Group C, alongside Morocco, Comoros, and Gabon. This series chronicles what transpired in the team’s most recent games with each of those opponents.
For their last meeting with Morocco, Ghana wouldn’t have to look too far into the past.
The two countries met in June, during the latest international break, in a friendly match hosted by the North Africans. For both teams, this was a chance to warm up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers slated to begin next month.
But for Jawad El Yamiq’s 68th-minute finish — facilitated, in no small part, by goalkeeper Razak Abalora’s clanger — the contest was fairly even and would probably have ended in a draw. Quite telling was Ghana’s lack of attacking bite, bringing to naught the best work of the lively Mohammed Kudus on the evening.
What Ghana missed in attacking ambition, though, they delivered in defensive doggedness. There hadn’t been enough of the latter since head coach Charles Akonnor’s 2020 appointment, but the performance against Morocco provided encouraging signs of better times ahead.
Anchored by the returning Daniel Amartey — nearly three years removed from his previous international appearance — who first had Nicholas Opoku, and later Alexander Djiku, as partners, Ghana repelled all that the Atlas Lions threw at them; from deep in midfield, the pairing of Emmanuel Lomotey and Baba Iddrisu formed an extra shield.
Ultimately, it was a brilliant freekick by Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech — almost as soon as the freshly-minted European champion was subbed on by vastly experienced trainer Vahid Halilhodzic — that, aided by Abalora’s moment to forget, broke Ghana’s resolve and allowed El Yamiq to nod the ball over a crowded goal-line.
The lessons from that narrow defeat, hopefully, would be picked up by Akonnor and carried with him as he attempts to mould and shape this Ghana team into a unit capable of achieving the nation’s targets — including a quest to secure a long-awaited fifth Africa Cup of Nations title at the finals in Cameroon next year, beginning with a tough Group C opener on January 10 against… Morocco.