It’s not difficult to see why Ethiopian football authorities are inclined to have the senior national team’s penultimate Qatar 2022 group qualifier against Ghana hosted in South Africa, following the ban slammed on their Bahir Dar International Stadium by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The Walias travel to play Zimbabwe just three days later and this, effectively a cost-cutting and penny-pinching measure, would mean they only have to make a short trip across the border to finish off the campaign. It is, for them, a final ‘win’ in a group that has offered them few.
For the opponents Ethiopia are intent on dragging to Johannesburg’s Orlando Stadium, Ghana’s Black Stars, that could mean a big ‘L’, even if they don’t actually lose the game. If it isn’t clear yet why the Ghana Football Association (GFA) is so fiercely resistant to the very idea, the reasons have been spelled out in an impassioned appeal to CAF/FIFA.
“Ghana and South Africa are separated by one point leading to the last two world cup [sic] group matches. It is therefore shocking that the Ethiopia Football Association [sic] will seek to take their home match against Ghana to South Africa,” the statement on the GFA website read.
“The GFA is of the view that it is wrong for a game of this magnitude to be played in a country which is in the same group and in contention for the top spot and urge CAF and FIFA to ensure that fair play is practiced to the latter [sic] in this matter.”
Maybe, though, Ghana needs to embrace this challenge rather than run away from it: there might not be a better place to honour this crucial game — aside from, perhaps, Ghana’s own patch — than on South African soil.
Ghana, since the group (Group G) was put together in January 2020, have had two games away to the team that was always going to prove their main contenders, South Africa — one in the AFCON 2021 qualification series and, more pertinently, in the race to reach the next FIFA World Cup.
The Black Stars failed to win either — a draw in the former was enough to secure a ticket to Cameroon, but a loss in the latter is the reason why Ghana is at a slight disadvantage going into the final pair of group fixtures — and served some flavourless football on both occasions, with Charles Akonnor’s team missing the chance to deliver a statement performance or two.
This, though, is an opportunity for Ghana to do just that, under current trainer Milovan Rajevac whose recent appointment appears to have rejuvenated the team. The Black Stars now look like a more cohesive unit, even if far from being the finished article, and are certainly in the mood to inspire some fear in their rivals.
South Africa is the immediate threat — although Ethiopia, to whom Ghana have never lost a competitive game, do have a chance to put paid to the Black Stars’ hopes of a World Cup return — and if their
spies scouts are going to have an easy chance to size up the west Africans ahead of the potential November 16 showdown (as seems Ghana’s suspicion), the impression they ought to be left with is one of dread.
Rajevac’s men could well put on a show in Bafana Bafana‘s own backyard, leaving the South Africans in the front-row seats quivering and cowering. Or, you know, Ghana could just spurn the opportunity and seek fairer, easier grounds for the must-win Ethiopia clash.
Right now, the preferred choice is obvious and — given what dividends the alternative could yield — probably not the best option.
Yaw Frimpong — Ink & Kicks