Even before Ghana emplaned for Japan, after the limp draw in their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against the Central African Republic (CAR), there were signs that Otto Addo’s team wasn’t going to have the smoothest of experiences.
Only 18 players were left on a list that was originally nearly twice as long, after injuries, ill health and other factors stripped the squad down to bare bones; of said number, only seven had more than 10 caps to their names.
Addo, with that skeletal roster, had just enough players to name a starting XI and a bench. Little surprise, then, that the glaring inadequacies of the team presented for the 2022 Kirin Cup Soccer opener versus Japan were so brutally exposed and exploited in a humbling 4-1 defeat.
Ghana’s solitary goal, scored by Jordan Ayew, was definitely the best of the bunch, but ultimately of little consolatory value. Overall, though particularly defensively, Ghana looked disjointed, playing with just about as much cohesion as you could reasonably expect of a team of such composition.
If there was anything worse than the heavy setback suffered, it was the fact that Ghana had one more game to play, the contest for third place against Chile, following the South Americans’ own loss to Tunisia. Surely, though, it really couldn’t get worse, could it?
Ghana had to show up stronger, on the pitch and in their minds, to bow out of the competition with some pride, and they did just that. The performance was vastly improved, in fact, with the players clearly having adjusted better to each other in the last few days.
And Ghana had enough chances to win in 90-odd minutes, the best of which fell to striker Benjamin Tetteh, who was only unfortunate to crash two efforts — one with a foot, the other with his head — into the woodwork.
Those, however, were the best bits.
Ghana, already stretched thin, were further reduced by two men, when Alidu Seidu and Mubarak Wakaso — at opposite ends of the experience spectrum — got sent off in the second half, within 11 minutes of each other. From there, it took sheer will for the Black Stars to drag the game to penalties, where they did something they rarely ever manage to do: win.
Abdul-Manaf Nurudeen of Belgian outfit Eupen, brought in to take the place of the underwhelming Lawrence Ati-Zigi, came up big in the shootout to complement the sharpshooting skills of teammates Jordan Ayew, Mohammed Kudus and Abdul-Fatawu Issahaku.
The overwhelming feeling at the end of it all would have been collective relief that this testing Oriental ordeal was over, given the circumstances, rather than any real sense of triumph (technically, after all, this would only go down in the records as a draw).
Yet even with so little to celebrate, despite the diminished quantity and quality Addo had to work with, new layers of strength – those depths that show up in the midst of adversity – were found that could help the team going forward, with a FIFA World Cup to come later this year.
Quality won’t be a problem by the time the Mundial kicks off, of that we can be certain. The squad will be reinforced, especially with the imminent addition of those players due to complete nationality switches. Stronger, too, would be the mentality of the team, after what they’ve faced and survived in their latest assignment.
Strength, they say, lies in numbers, but Addo and his team have found the reverse to be just as true. It doesn’t hurt, either, that a relatively new, largely untested goalkeeper has grabbed the opportunity to emerge from the periphery and stake a claim as a potential starter.
And for a team not used to standing proud and victorious at the end of a shootout, the outcome against Chile would be a treasured keepsake, a memento from an otherwise forgettable trip, and a boost ahead of bigger challenges to come.