The circumstances might be a little different this time, but when Ghana take on South Africa tomorrow, the former would be hoping for the very thing they sought — and got — when the two giants first faced off in the qualifying series for the 2006 Fifa World Cup.
Ahead of that memorable meeting in Kumasi, 17 years ago, Ghana had commenced their Group 2 campaign with a narrow loss away to northern neighbours Burkina Faso. It was, certainly, an inauspicious start to a run that Ghanaians hoped would culminate in a first-ever appearance at the Mundial, and the Black Stars had to get it right in the next game.
That next game, though, was against the group favourites, an opponent that Ghana had had cause to dread for the best part of a decade. Few of their continental peers, up until that point in the team’s history, could legitimately claim to have the Black Stars’ number, and that distinction was almost exclusively South Africa’s.
Bafana Bafana kicked Ghana where it hurt at the Nations Cup of 1996 (which they hosted and won), and also eliminated the Black Stars on the latter’s own territory — dear Siyabonga Nomvethe, we haven’t forgotten you and your sting — when Ghana co-hosted the competition four years later.
To defeat the South Africans (who, to tune up the fear factor just a little more, had won their opening game) for the first time, get their Germany-bound agenda back on track and thus restore public confidence, Ghana — then trained by current Asante Kotoko boss Mariano Barreto — had to dig deep, before a packed crowd at what was then known as the Kumasi Sports Stadium.
And dig deep they did, putting on a show for the ages, in hammering Stuart Baxter’s South Africa 3-0. A skipper’s performance by the excellent Stephen Appiah — garnished with two goals, with fellow midfielder Sulley Muntari contributing the other — led the charge and helped achieve the hitherto impossible.
It took a while, after that landmark win, for Ghana to achieve some consistency and hit a steady patch of good form during the series, but that result was what really won people over and got them believing in the team’s chances. Many would agree, in fact, that it represented a psychological corner turned for Ghana and a deafening statement of intent.
Conversely, it took some time for the wheels to come off South Africa’s train (since then, they’ve still not managed to defeat Ghana in a competitive duel), but when they finally did — a full year later, after a more stunning loss to the Black Stars in the reverse — there was little doubt about just when/where the real damage was done.
On Monday, when the pair clash again in their respective second games of the penultimate Qatar 2022 qualification round in Johannesburg, Ghana would seek another shot in the arm, the sort of lift-off they couldn’t quite secure in their first Group G game last Friday.
The Black Stars didn’t lose to Ethiopia in said fixture, but the insipid display put up, and the corresponding public reaction, felt almost as though they did.
Beating South Africa — well, with a squad shorn of some of its best parts, most Ghanaians might accept a ‘hard-fought draw’ from Charles Akonnor and his charges — and kicking on from there could help ensure that few, if any at all, would remember just how awful they were against the Ethiopians, much as hardly anyone recalls that loss to Burkina Faso all those years ago.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks