With the appointment of each new head coach, Ghanaians have shown a never-dying willingness to give the Black Stars a chance to redeem themselves, a slate wiped clean of the ‘sins’ of the last seven years and ready to be filled with new achievements.
Saturday was one such day, the opportunity for a fresh start under a new — okay, not so new — trainer, Milovan Rajevac. Zimbabwe were the guests, in a Qatar 2022 qualifier that Ghana couldn’t afford to pick anything less than three points from.
Yet, as always, Ghanaians sought something more than just victory: something, if not quite entertaining, then certainly exciting. And the 4,000-odd spectators whose privilege it was to be at the stadium, also the millions who watched on screens of all sizes, would have seen plenty worth getting excited over.
The Black Stars didn’t take too long to impress, even if you might want to put that urgency down to the fact that South Africa’s surprise win in Ethiopia earlier in the day had left Ghana with so much ground to cover.
Zimbabwe were a goal down before they knew it, delivered by one of the three youngsters whose presence in Ghana’s attack threatened to send pulses racing. Neat offensive interplay saw the ball end up with Holland-based Mohammed Kudus who, on entering the guests’ box, loaned the ball briefly to Jordan Ayew.
The Crystal Palace man usually takes a lot more than two touches, but he sensibly restricted himself to just that number — two — here, controlling Kudus’ pass with one touch and returning the ball to the sender’s address with another.
Teed up thus, Kudus swung the ball clean through the legs of a Zimbabwean defender and past the pointless dive of Washington Arubi. The tone was set for Ghana to go on and grab a couple more, potentially ending the game as a contest by half-time.
Kudus, Kamaldeen Sulemana and Abdul Fatawu Issahaku — the aforementioned youthful trio, all prodigious and promising — kept weaving through legs ever so skilfully, but there wasn’t enough firepower to wrap things up quickly, leaving Zimbabwe off the hook.
And Norman Mapeza’s team delivered a hook of their own early shortly after recess, courtesy a Knowledge Musona penalty-kick gifted by Alexander Djiku and which debuting Ghana goalkeeper Joseph Wollacott couldn’t be faulted for not keeping out.
The balance of the game was, steadily, slipping out of Ghana’s grasp as Zimbabwe grew in confidence. But where, only a month ago, this team might have buckled and crumbled into a clueless heap — seemingly resigned to settling for a share of the spoils, or worse — Ghana roused themselves back into a commanding position, bossing it to the end.
To thank for that was a pair of inspired substitutions by Rajevac that — take notes here, Charles Akonnor — unlocked a new level of creativity and attacking threat from Ghana; namely, taking off the younger Ayew and debutant Issahaku, respectively, for Benjamin Tetteh (a third debutant) and Baba Iddrisu.
The first switch gave Zimbabwe’s defence a 6 ft 4 mass of a striker to deal with; the latter freed the midfield duo of the other — older — Ayew, Andre, and Thomas Partey to push further up the pitch and sharpen Ghana’s bite.
A second goal shortly thereafter, through Partey’s brilliant finish, and a third when skipper Ayew connected with Abdul Rahman Baba‘s late cross. This was a victory that owed to, more than anything else, a piece of decent coaching — something Ghana hasn’t had too much of in a while (look away now, Akonnor).
And it wasn’t one of those recent victories filed under the ‘scrappy’ (see Ghana 1-0 Ethiopia) or ‘pointless’ (Ghana 3-1 Sao Tome and Principe) categories; no, this one would inspire confidence in Ghana’s ranks and fear in Zimbabwe’s (and maybe in Group G leaders South Africa, too, if they’re watching), ahead of Tuesday’s reverse.
If this was the first taste of Rajevac’s second coming, well, bring on the whole menu already.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks