Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Old rivalry rekindled as the Stars play the Eagles in a crunch game today

Matches between Ghana and their Nigerian counterparts have never followed any established form. Be it at the junior or senior levels, whoever is lucky on the match day comes out victorious. Between the two, the Black Stars have been the biggest beneficiaries especially at the senior level.

Ahead of today’s (Thursday) crunch semi final game at the on-going African Nations Cup in Angola, players and supporters of the two countries have been entangled in a war of words over who will emerge the victor. Though the Black Stars have, on most occasions, found their way around the Eagles in such matches, it has never been easy and Ghanaians can only wish them well.

The last time the two teams played was at a similar tournament two years ago in Ghana when the Stars beat them by two goals to one. Nigerian had taken the lead in a penalty converted by striker Yakubu Ayigbeni. The Black Stars responded quickly and Manuel Agogo (not part of the present squad) scored the winning goal that took Ghana to the semi finals of the tournament.

Prior to the 2008 meet, the two met at the semi final state in Senegal in 1992 and there too, the Super Eagles took the first lead but ended up losing to the stars by two goals to one. Skipper Abedi Pele and Prince Polley were the goal scorers for Ghana.

The 1992 and 2008 squads had much more experienced players and quality, contrary to what pertains at the moment. The current stars have eight players from the Under 20 squad. There is no Sulley Muntari, John Mensah, Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and John Painstil.

Among the list it was only Essien who joined the team but was forced to leave the camp following an injury he is reported to have sustained at training. Apart from Richard Kingson, Hans Adu Sarpei, Eric Addo, Asamoah Gyan and Matthew Amoah, the remaining players in the squad are tasting their first experience at such a big stage. Going into the tournament, critics complained about the strength of the team because it was short of the so-called ‘big boys.’

Some sports commentators virtually rubbished the team. Others described them as ‘childish’ and a team that lacks the needed experience to even go beyond the group stages. The criticism was more pronounced after their first game against Ivory Coast which they lost by three goals to one.

The team however managed to pick up the pieces and beat Burkina Faso by a lone goal scored by Andre Dede Ayew in a match people claimed the team escaped through the skin of their teeth.

Going into the quarter final game against Angola, very few people had faith in their ability to progress through the stage. On paper Angola looked more purposeful and determined than the black stars. They had scored an average of two goals and considered five as against a team that had scored only two goals with three against from two matches.

The stars however went into the game against Angola as the underdogs and after 90 minutes, a lone goal scored by under-fire striker Asamoah Gyan was enough to silence the home crowd.

On paper the Super Eagles boast of quality as compared to the black stars. They have deadly strikers in the persons of Peter Odemingwe and Obafemi Martins and anytime the two should have their games on, opposing defenders always fumble holding them in check.

The Black Stars have however proven that names don’t play football. Their sheer determination has been a huge panacea to get them to the semi’s and most Ghanaians are confident history will again be on the side of the stars after 4pm today.

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