28th August 2017. Remember that date if you are a Black Stars fan. It could decide whether Ghana qualifies for a fourth successive World Cup or otherwise. Strange how the result of just the third game of the qualifiers in our group could ultimately decide Ghana’s fate. It is that simple. The Egyptians have picked up maximum points from their first two games. If they pick up a result against Uganda in Kampala, which is not impossible from what I have seen of them, they are as good as being mentioned as one of the 32 qualified teams. The Pharaohs play two successive home games against Uganda and Republic of Congo after that, which they are expected to win. If they pick up maximum points in all three games of which two is almost a certainty, their points’ buildup shoots up to 15. Their final game against Ghana would only be for the records. Now juxtapose that with Ghana with a solitary point going into match day 3 against Republic of Congo. We are definitely going to do everything possible to get a result against the Congolese on home soil. That could literally end all Congolese hopes of making it to a first ever World Cup. Granted that turns out to be the case, an away win in Brazzaville or Pointe Noire is highly plausible as well. Depending on the outcome of the two-legged tie between Uganda and Egypt, the Black Stars would have to win in Kampala at all cost on match day 5 to put themselves in the reckoning against the Pharaohs on the final match day on home soil. Sounds a bit complicated I reckon. We are good at the mathematics. No worries.
The celebrations of the thousands of Egyptian fans at the Borg Al Arab Stadium in Alexandria gave a clear indication as to what the result meant to the 80,000 screaming fans and beyond. They knew that a result against Ghana, a side that had denied them a place in Brazil, was not only one of revenge, but one that could ultimately decide their 2018 fate. The result against the Congolese on match day one could not have come at a better time. The 2-0 result against Ghana was a case of having one foot in Putin’s Russia. Football can be a very funny sport but on a continent where every trick under the sun could be deployed, that meant 12 points in the bag. Three home wins and the win in Congo for starters. I would be extremely surprised if the Egyptians had hoped to pick anything from playing Ghana on the final match day. The plan would have been simple from the onset. Go for the kill in the first five games after the Stars could only draw in Uganda and they are there. Simplicita.
The Egyptians have suffered over the last few years due to political reasons. The Arab uprising meant that football literally came to a standstill. I have my doubts as to whether we could have hit the Egyptians for six if competitive football was not brought to a halt. With as many of the players playing for local clubs, Al Ahly, Zamalek, ENNPI et al, that clearly hit them hard. Match fitness was a massive challenge going into the first leg game against Ghana for the local component of the squad. Three years down the line and the Pharaohs are clearly back on song. They made light work of a resurgent Super Eagles to qualify for the AFCON 2017 while Zamalek made it to the final of the CAF Champions League only to lose to South African side Mamelodi Sundowns in the final. It said a lot about how Egyptian football was making its way back to the top after the downturn.
Take out Mo Salah and to an extent Mo Elneny and you have to say the squad is far from any prima donnas. Salah has been in breathtaking form for club and country while Elneny is on the cards of English giants Arsenal Football Club. He may not be a first choice player at the Emirates, but he is clearly benefitting from training sessions with some of the best players in the world as well as some top level technical guidance by a certain Arsene Wenger. Now that does not happen every day, does it? Ramadan Sobhi is still only 19 and learning his trade with Stoke City. He is surely far from the finished article. Their biggest asset on the evidence of what we saw on Sunday has to be veteran goalkeeper Essam Al Hadary, who at 43 is still very much on the books of Egyptian Premier League side Wadi Degla. He has 23 years of experience with over 600 club games played at a very high level. Add his staggering 148 caps for the Pharaohs and honours for club and country and you have to say his presence has done the side a world of good. 37 trophies including three Nations Cup honours. Now that is what you call experience
Throw in the experienced Hector Cooper, twice a finalist with Valencia in the UEFA Champions League, and you bet he would get the best out of the burgeoning talents in the squad. That he has done admirably. How he would love a double, a CAN and World Cup qualification in just under two years. You bet they are going to have a wonderful Cup of Nations as well, where they incidentally have to play Ghana and Uganda again. Cup of Nations issues would be discussed on another day.
A lot has already been said and written about how Ghana bottled her qualification before match day 1 as petty squabbles between Sports Minister Vanderpuye and the FA, coupled with a lackadaisical approach by manager Grant and his technical team, who for reasons best known to them decided to opt for the 36 degree Celsius climate for players who were coming from 7-9 degree climates and a pitch that was only good enough for a colts championship has now given the nation more than a mountain to climb and a crater to get over.
For now the Stars can only hope that the Ugandans do us the biggest favour in our football history by defeating the Pharaohs in Kampala. Sadly though, the Stars have failed to score in their opening two games of the qualifiers and with goal difference set to decide who the winners of the various groups are going to be, Ghana’s record of a -2 compared to a 3 for the Egyptians means a draw in Kampala for the Egyptians coupled with a low scoring effort by the Stars in any part of the country may not hurt the chances of the Egyptians at all. That is how bad the situation is, folks. Very bad. I can understand the bravado, not a needless one, being put by the technical team, administrators and players alike after the defeat in Alexandria. We were not expecting them to roll over with as many “games” to go. The truth though is that the actions and inactions of some people have greatly caused us a good start with the qualifiers. You just get the feeling it could be one of those long and drained out qualifiers. Walking from Accra to Kolsomoskaya, that is more like it. And it would not be just a case of Ghana missing out, but also missing out on the benefits to be derived from yet another World Cup qualification for players, technical team, administrators, and journos alike.
And I have to say it is painfully not looking good. Did I just hear someone shout over to the operations team? What a job they have to do. I do not envy them at all, that is, if they do exist.
Thanks for doing the reading.
The writer is Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang, Sports Editor @ Class91.3FM. You can follow him on Twitter @ DwomohKwame and on Facebook: Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang.