The final week of March sees Ghana come up against Nigeria, its West African archrivals, in a two-legged playoff clash that would see one of those teams join four others from around the continent to represent Africa at the 2022 FIFA World Cup later in the year.
For these five reasons, at least, this tie is a must-win for the Black Stars.
IT’S NIGERIA… AND IT’S BEEN A WHILE
If there is an opponent that Ghana loves to get one over – regardless of the occasion, venue, or reward – it’s Nigeria.
The long-running rivalry between the two countries transcends fields – music, cuisine, etc. – but nowhere is it as intense as in football.
Ghana is, per the numbers, the dominant side in matches between the two, and a chance to re-assert that supremacy shouldn’t be missed; this chance, the first in over a decade, is especially crucial, given the stakes.
IT’S THE WORLD CUP… AND IT’S BEEN A WHILE
It’s testament to how much Ghana’s stock on the international scene has soared in the last 15 years or so that the Black Stars’ absence at the 2018 FIFA World Cup was rather conspicuous.
The country made a noticeable impression at the first edition of the Mundial it ever graced, Germany 2006, and did even better at the next tournament, when the showpiece came to Africa.
A chance to fix all that and bring back the good times was missed by failing to qualify for Russia 2018, but here’s another.
Why pass it up?
THE ALLURE OF IT ALL
There’s no overstating just how much value booking a World Cup ticket adds to the reputation of a national team, even in the period between qualification and appearance at the finals itself.
And that’s a currency Ghana is in dire need of in its bid to win the attentions of those highly-rated talents of partial/full Ghanaian extraction who appear to have their hearts set on playing for some more prestigious international side they are eligible for – think the likes of Tariq Lamptey, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Brian Brobbey.
It did work a treat when Ghana sealed a place at South Africa 2010, turning the head of Germany-born Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Who knows just which player could be swayed, this time, by the prospect of playing in Qatar?
SOMETHING TO BUILD ON
It hasn’t been a great last few months – make that last few years, if you will – for the Black Stars.
An entire generation (or two?) has been phased out, with the smoothness of the ensuing transition not helped by poor technical leadership, culminating in the horror of the nation’s worst-ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) showing in January this year.
The team is ready to travel in a fresh direction under a yet-to-be-named substantive trainer, but there is the small matter of this pair of qualifiers to get out of the way. Defeat in the upcoming assignment wouldn’t make the job of the incoming head coach any harder – things are pretty bad already – but victory…?
Well, what a way that would be to lay the foundation for the rebuild that lies ahead!
THE NATION NEEDS IT
Times are hard, you say?
Ah, tell me about it!
Fuel prices are speeding one way, the Ghanaian Cedi is hurtling the other, and the much-loathed electronic levy should be arriving anytime soon; things, considering global events, are unlikely to get much better in the foreseeable future.
But if there’s anything that, even in the bleakest of times, has proven capable of lifting the national mood or, at least, serving as a potent distraction, it’s a big football result – never mind one against the old enemy.
Every Ghanaian – from the embattled head of state to the embittered man on the streets – would surely embrace such an outcome, no?