The New Black Stars: United, Willing to Learn & Ready to Fight

Let’s state it plainly: nobody who watched the Black Stars slump to an all-time low at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) would have predicted that the same team, albeit a rejuvenated version of it, could soon outwit and eliminate Nigeria’s Super Eagles to book a place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

It would be wrong to say that the Ghanaians were underrated by most pundits ahead of the two-legged tie; with the fresh backdrop of unprecedented failure, and up against a more fancied opponent, they weren’t rated at all.

At the sharp end of international football, shocks rarely come much bigger.

As referee Sadok Selmi blew his whistle to conclude the game and confirm the worst fears of Augustine Eguavoen, the now-dismissed Nigeria trainer could barely move from his seat at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, disbelieving of the quivering effect Ghana’s hard-fought 1-1 draw – and consequent away-goal success – had just had on the 60,000-plus present.

How did it actually happen, though?

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Well, there would be the bitter Nigerian narrative – after the inevitable inquest – but, from a Ghanaian perspective, the analysis couldn’t be more pleasant.

In a sport that rarely sees talent and team spirit operate in perfect tandem – with ego often standing in the way – this was some alignment, the result of which was sheer celestial delight. For Ghana to achieve this, just months after the team crumbled like a house of cards in Cameroon, is truly incredible.

Quite notably, the players had an open attitude towards the games, playing like they actually wanted to win. But while they certainly deserved credit for their effort and desire, there was a lot of work put in, too, by the Otto Addo-led bench.

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That technical team may have been hastily arranged and installed, but it came up with a plan that the playing body showed great trust in by committing to heart and executing to victorious effect across the two legs.

It didn’t seem to matter that the man in charge, Addo, only had the job in an interim capacity and lacked previous experience as a head coach; the players’ confidence in him, his assistants, and the overall strategy was unwavering.

And it showed in how effusively Addo was celebrated in the dressing room after the decisive second game, with his praises being sung, literally, before he was himself carried aloft in the manner coaches are at the end of a triumphant mission.

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Speaking of the dressing room, crucially, there were no reports this time of in-fighting or factions – quite a few of those emerged in the aftermath of the AFCON 2021 fiasco, it you recall – and that is also, unquestionably, a testament to the substance of Addo’s leadership.

Worth hailing, too, is the level of inspiration required to have produced that mental shift which lifted the team, and indeed the entire nation, from the wreckage of the AFCON disaster to such heights of belief and achievement – all in a few short weeks.

Timing is everything in football, and the blend of Addo’s discipline with such a unified, young group of players’ thirst for guidance has come at exactly the right time. The next step is to build on this feat, for Addo to find ways to ensure the Black Stars keep on making strides beyond their heroics in Abuja.

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There are no guarantees yet that the task of securing such progress would be his, as a substantive appointment is still to be made – Chris Hughton, Addo’s technical adviser on the Nigeria assignment, is another potential candidate – but you get the feeling Addo is the guy the squad and the rest of the country would be rooting for.

Regardless of who gets the nod – and Addo, surely, has made a strong case for himself — the template is clear, as is the immediate target: to make a mark at the World Cup, starting with a tricky group that would require grit and skill to navigate.

This Black Stars side knows exactly what it stands for, and if the attitude on show against Nigeria was proof of the new turn the team is taking, we’re all for it.

Godfred Budu YeboahInk & Kicks

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