When the Harmattan kicks in; when offices, malls and homes are draped in green and red; when hampers are more visible than computers in offices; when boxes compete for space at shop registers; when churches erect huge boards advertising “Crossover, Passover etc”, then you know it’s that time of the year.
Christmas! When we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! Christmas though, has transcended Christianity into a universal celebration.
It marks the end of the year; a time to express gratitude for life (shallow pocket notwithstanding), a time to take stock and regroup for the New Year.
Even if you are steeped in the festivities, I am sure, you like everyone else, will pause to make a mental note or two as we phase out what has been an eventful 2013. It was the year of “the pink sheet”, persistent power cuts (dumsor) “vikkileaks” etc.
We in the football fraternity had our moments too. Indeed, there have been several heart stopping and heart wrenching moments, but surely a few stuck out; those that built our faith, those that broke our fragile hearts and those that simply made us go gaga.
I don’t know which one stood out for you but I will share mine with you. Hopefully, you will find as much inspiration like I did. Sit back as we travel back into time.
A LONG WALK TO DISASTER
February 6, Nelspruit, South Africa: It’s close to midnight and a group of Ghanaian fans walk dejected from the stadium to catch a bus back to their hotels. I had the singular ‘honour’ of being a member of the walking pack.
Though we were in a group, nobody spoke. Ghana had just been defeated 3-2 on penalties by Burkina Faso of nations at the semifinal stage of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
That wasn’t part of the script. Pundits, Ghanaian fans and even South Africans expected Ghana to deal with the small matter that was the Stallions of Burkina Faso and make the dream final against bitter rivals Nigeria.
That was not to be, even with the referee aiding Ghana with a penalty and a red card to Burkina Faso, Ghana were beyond poor on the night and Burkina Faso deservingly qualified for the final.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise really, because throughout the tournament, bar the game against Niger, which the Black Stars won 3-0, Ghana labored in all the 6 matches including the quarterfinal against Cape Verde.
Unnecessary deployment of players at unfamiliar positions (do I hear you say Kwadwo Asamoah), omission of other key players due to non-footballing reasons, all contrived to Ghana’s disastrous outing. It had long been coming.
FAITH LIKE THAT OF BORBOR’S
June 27, Kayseri, Turkey: Ghana’s national U-20 team, the Black Satellites faced the USA in a must win final group game for qualification to the knockout rounds of the FIFA U-20 World Youth Championship.
The Satellites had lost the 2 previous games; 4-1 to France and 1-0 to Spain. Ordinarily, that should have gotten the Satellites kicked- out, but with the peculiar situation of a 24 team tournament, there was a ‘wild card’ for 4 of the best placed teams in 3rd position.
This was the scenario: The Satellites needed to beat the USA convincingly to have a healthy goal deficit and also hope that all other group results go their way in order to qualify.
So, while pundits worked the odds and dismissed Ghana’s chance, the coach of the team, Sellas “Borbor” Tetteh (yeah, we Tettehs rock, don’t we?) kept faith, believing that, a higher power, an unseen hand, will see them through.
Indeed, that is exactly what happened and the Satellites qualified by the skin of their teeth. The Satellites went on to beat other favourites like Portugal and Chile, coming back from goal deficits in both games, exhibiting perseverance and good old “Borboric” faith, as Ghana eventually won bronze.
MIRACLE OF KUMASI
October 15, Baba Yara Stadium: A match that was to be hotly contested between Ghana and Egypt turned out to be ermm… “a father and son contest”. Going into the game, Egypt supposedly looked the better side as she had swept past all its foes in the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
To make matters worse, Ghana was playing home first in the 2 legged play-off, thus there was more pressure on Ghana to win and win convincingly to cushion the second leg in Cairo. So though Ghanaians expected a win, the expectation was that it was going to be difficult and bruising. Well, Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah has a way of tossing scripts, doesn’t he?
He had clearly learnt from his AFCON mistakes, as his star studded team made Egypt look like an elementary school team. It was such a thorough performance as the Black Stars beat the Pharoahs 6-1.
I had to pinch myself several times to believe what my eyes were seeing. That was enough to book Ghana a ticket to the World Cup despite the 2-1 loss in the second leg. Many years down the line, I can boldly claim that I witnessed live the “Miracle of Kumasi”.
Nobody can tell me that “you and I were not there” (apologies Dr. Bawumia)
It is these events that provided the “ouhhs” and “ahhs” for me, and it may look like its only football, but the values and lessons extend to life in general.
So, while we introspect, reflect and make New Year resolutions, let’s spare a moment, take a break, express gratitude, dance, drink some wine and celebrate 2013. I know I will.
Hopefully I will catch you at one of the several parties and events around town, so together, we can do a routine of the new ‘alkayida’ dance, after all, “Boys Abr3!”
firstname.lastname@example.org; follow me on twitter @niithesoccerguy
(Culled from 90 Minutes)