By Firdose Moonda, ESPN
Ghana have goalkeeper Stephen Adams to thank for putting them into the African Nations Championship (CHAN) final.
Not only did Adams save two penalties in the shootout, he also played on despite suffering a groin injury that required extensive on-field treatment and kept Nigeria forward Barnabas Imenger at bay to put Ghana one win away from a continental trophy.
On the evidence of Adams’ performances so far — he has conceded only one goal in the five matches Ghana have played — he could also make the difference in the final.
Coincidentally, the only time he has been beaten was against Libya, the Black Stars’ opposition in the CHAN showpiece on Saturday, but in every other contest, he has been an expert at thwarting strikers. Against Congo in Ghana’s opener, Adams watched as numerous chances were created, one just five metres away from him, and squandered. In match two, he saved all of Libya’s attempts to find the back of the net, until they were handed a penalty and Faisail Saleh scored.
Ethiopia barely troubled him and in the quarterfinal, but Adams was ready to pull out a man of the match showing. He preserved Ghana’s 1-0 lead with a string of impressive saves, including a late one from Luvumba Nzinga. That prevented the Democratic Republic of the Congo from equalising and the game from going into extra time to hand Ghana a final four berth.
As the occasion swelled, so did Adams’ character and it was on full display against Nigeria. Although Adams had no goal advantage to defend, he also made certain Ghana had no deficit to make up, aided by a defence which frustrated Nigeria. As the game went deep into extra time, a few players — Adams was one of them — began to show signs of tired legs.
In leaping in the air to save a shot with an outstretched right leg Adams over-reached. He was in obvious pain and it seemed Ghana may have needed to call on their reserve for the most important task of the tournament: the shootout to decide which team qualified for the final. But Adams was not giving up so easily. He was back on his feet and mobile, moving the right way as Imenger blasted high and then making a dramatic save in final minute by tipping an Imenger shot over the bar.
With confidence sky-high, Adams was at his best in the shootout. His saves helped send Ghana through and put himself in contention for a more regular spot in the national team.
Between the posts is the only department where Ghana may still have a vacancy ahead of the World Cup. Their choices are between Fatau Dauda, who did the job at the 2013 ANC and is now plying his trade in South Africa, Belgian-based Adam Kwarasey, who has made 19 appearances for the national team, Daniel Agyei, also in South Africa with Free State Stars but who is currently injured and Richard Kingson, the veteran who was recalled to the squad late last year after a two-year absence. They could do worse than pick Adams, despite former Ghanian ‘keeper Abubaker Damba’s warning that he isn’t quite ready.
“He needs to learn from the sidelines, before he can be put into the main Black Stars team but I think he is a prospect in the near future so he needs to be encouraged,” Damba told Kumasi-based radio station, Metro FM. “If he is rushed and unfortunately things don’t go on well, we will kill his spirit and that will be the end for him.”
Adams has proven himself to be a player with a lot of heart and a lot of potential, so being tossed at the deep end should not intimidate him. And if he does make the World Cup squad, it will be a victory for CHAN as well.
Because the competition is only made up of locally-based players, it gives teams an opportunity to see which of their domestic stars match up at international level, albeit against other home-based players. Adams is one that can step up. If Ghana end up taking that knowledge, rather than a trophy, out of South Africa on Sunday, they should not be unhappy with their return at all.