Veteran Sports Journalist Ken Bediako-The Writer

By Ken Bediako

There is so much post Covid tension around the world currently that we should be thankful the FIFA World Cup is just around the corner to give us some respite.

Six years ago when Sepp Blatter then FIFA boss and his colleagues defiantly broke the convention by shifting the football mundial from June to November due to Qatar’s hot climate, most football pundits were not happy with that drastic change. But as the sages say some misfortunes turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

In the wake of so much political agitations globally emanating from economic hardships, there is going to be nearly one month of fun and entertainment provided by the cream of the best footballers in the 

world from 32 nations across the five continents of the planet.

Despite all the much hyped global high inflation, the sporting world is moving to Qatar in the next few days and we are all going to be glued to our TV sets and enjoy the football festival.

There is a local Akan proverb that loosely translates that “when crying in grief you can take a break to blow your nose”. We can’t be all that morose all the time. That legendary musician, Barry White would say “let the music play and I can hear the legendary Olympic Chief American Avery Brundage echo “The Games must go on”.

May I appeal to all perennial pessimists who don’t seem to have enough sense of humour to join the rest of us optimists to celebrate the originators of this global football festival that started in 1930 with 16 nations and now doubled to 32. Such major gatherings of sports practitioners, technicians and journalists provide a magnificent platform for comradeship and networking. It is now an established fact that competitive sports in general, and football in particular, has grown to be mega business. This has unfortunately resulted in the urge to cheat or cut corners to achieve instant success. It’s therefore heart-warming that strict scientific measures are being taken to ensure fair play in all aspects of competitive sport notably random doping tests, Tennis for a long time has been using video calls for line ball situations, athletics and horse racing adopt photo finishing cameras for dead heats and football now has Video Assistant Referees to help in settling issues that might be too minute for the ordinary eyes to determine accurately

So much emphasis is put on fairplay that a gold medallist in athletics, for example, could lose his medal and his record completely erased from the records if found to be tainted with drug abuse (ref Ben Johnson, 1988 Seoul Olympics).

Facts and figures are so important in competitive sports that Sports journalists don’t have the luxury of twisting records like some self-styled social media reporters take delight in apparently deceiving the public with fake and false news.

No credible sports journalist will report that the Black Stars took part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia which is untrue.

But a social media reporter will look Ghanaians straight in the face and say authoritatively that General J. A. Ankrah resigned as President of Ghana in 1968.

The last time I checked Ghana had a military government at the time by name National Liberation Council (NLC).

Ladies and gentlemen, the Black Stars of Ghana will make the 4th appearance at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in a few days’ time.

This follows appearances in Germany 2006, South Africa 2010, and Brazil 2014.

I know this information should be fresh in the minds of the millennium born youngsters. But to take them back a bit, I would like to provide the tale of Ghana’s numerous failed attempts to qualify for the FIFA World Cup until success was achieved in 2006. The struggle started as far back as August 28 1960 when Ghana earned a neat 4-1 victory over Nigeria in the first leg qualifying series for CHILE 1962 at Accra Stadium. The second leg in Lagos on Sept 10 was 2-2.

Ghana thus qualified on 6-3 aggregate to meet Morocco in the next round at Accra Stadium on April 2, 1961. It was goalless and Morocco won the second leg in Rabat 1-0 to end the Black Stars hope of a World Cup debut.

Those early sixties were for names like Addoquaye Laryea, Dodoo Ankrah, Ben Simmons, E.C. Oblitey, Mama Ankrah, Addo Odametey, Alhaji Tanko, Baba Yara, Edward Acquah, Aggrey Fynn, Edward Boateng, Mohammed Salisu, Wilberforce Mfum, C.K. Gyamfi, Dogo Moro, Ofei Dodoo, Adansi Fofie, Kwame Adarkwa, Samuel Peters, Ben Kusi and Co.

Ghana skipped the ENGLAND 1966 prelims but were in action for the 1970 MEXICO show.

Unfortunately, the Black Stars could not survive the very first round eliminated by Nigeria on 3-2 aggregate Nigeria won first leg 2-1 in Lagos on May 10, 1969 and drew the return 1-1 in Accra on May 18, 1969.

Side attraction in the second match was that the Black Stars wore black armbands to mark the death of Baba Yara, “king of wingers” on May 5.

The Black Stars line up in Lagos was Robert Mensah, Joe Dakota, Kpakpo Allotey, Sam Amarteifio, John Eshun (Capt), Christian Madus, Robert Folley, Jones Attuquayefio, Joe Ghartey, Abeka Ankrah George Alhassan.

For the second leg veteran Addoquaye Laryea was in goal and Amusa Gbadamosi replaced Christian Madus. 

The qualifiers for Germany 74 saw the Black Stars in a much more improved form Ghana won the first match against Benin in Conakry 5-0 and the return in Kumasi 5-1.

With this flying start Ghana were full of vim and beat Nigeria 3-2 in Lagos and drew the return goalless to move into the next round.

The Stars were however stopped by Zaire in the next round 1-0 win at home on Aug 5, 1973 and losing 4-1 in Kinshasa Aug 19.

Those were the days of Lante France, Dan Oppong, Sam Amarteifio, Ayi Acquah, Joe Ghartey, John Eshun, John Taylor, Eric Amankwa, Kwasi Owusu, Isaac Eshun, Malik Jabir and Co.

The Black Stars were once more in action for the ARGENTINA 78 qualifiers but this was short lived. Guinea was responsible for Ghana’s early exit. The Black Stars beat Guinea 2-1 in Accra on Oct 10, 1976 and Guinea won the return by the same margin on Oct 16 thus resulting in a play off on neutral grounds. This took place in Lome, Togo on January 16 ,1977 and Guinea won 2-0.

This early exit might have disorganised Ghana’s subsequent preparations for the World Cup and it was not surprising that the Black Stars did not play the 1982 SPAIN qualifiers.

Ghana was however back in action for the Mexico 86 eliminations and it was another quick exit lasting only two rounds. The Black Stars drew goalless against Cote d’Ivoire in Abidjan on April 7 1985 and won the return in Kumasi 2-0 on April 25 to set a date with Libya in the next round.

Libya held Ghana to a goalless draw in the first leg in Accra on Aug 7 1985 and won the return 2-0 in Benghazi on July 26 1985.

The qualifiers for Italia 90 saw the Black Stars making another poor effort to shine. The Lone Stars from Liberia held the Black Stars to a goalless draw in Accra on August 21, 1988 and lost the return in Monrovia 2-0 on August 21, 1988.

USA 94 also did not provide any good story for the Black Stars. Paired in Group A with Algeria, Burundi and Uganda, the Ugandans withdrew from the round robin contest leaving the remaining three to fight for honours. Ghana made a poor start by losing to Burundi in Bujumbura on Oct 25 1992. The Black Stars however made amends with a classic 2-0 win over Algeria in Accra on December 20, 1992 Ghana avenged defeat over Burundi in Kumasi on January 31, 1993. Algeria however beat Ghana 2-1 in Tlecem, Algeria to top the group.  With five points against Ghana’s four. The Algerians had collected four points from Burundi having beaten the East Africans 3-1 at home and drawing 1-1 with them in Bujumbura.

The qualifying series for FRANCE 98 saw Ghana among 36 African countries that struggled for the five places allotted to Africa instead of the previous three. The Black Stars eliminated Tanzania on 2-1 aggregate in the qualifying series to reach the group stage. The first match in Dar-es Salaam on June 8, 1996 ended in a goalless draw and Ghana won the second leg 2-1in Kumasi on June 17.

The group stages comprised Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gabon and Morocco in the round robin contest. Ghana made a good start drawing 1-1 with Gabon in Libreville on Nov 10, 1996.

Ghana however dropped valuable home points by drawing 2-2 with Morocco in Kumasi in the second match on January 12, 1997.The Black Stars drew for the third time with yet another draw against Sierra Leone in Freetown on April 5, 1997.

The fourth match on April 27, 1997 saw the Black Stars in top form as they whipped Gabon 3-0 in Accra but they suddenly dipped in form and lost their next match against Morocco 1-0 in Casablanca on June 7 1997.

The sixth match against Sierra Leone provided an interesting scenario.

Sierra Leone appeared reluctant to turn up for the match due to financial difficulties. Ghana, “the Good Samaritan” offered to help by airlifting the team to Ghana. This was on August 17, 1997. The match took place at Obuasi and Ghana apparently expecting favours from Sierra Leone were surprisingly beaten 2-0. Thus ended Ghana’s World Cup dream as Morocco with victories over Sierra

Leone and Gabon, qualified from the group to join Tunisia, Cameroun, Nigeria, and South Africa for FRANCE 98.

The Black Stars once again joined the 50 African countries that entered for JAPAN-KOREA 2002. After dismissing Tanzania 2-1 on aggregate in the qualifying rounds 1-0 in Dar-es Salaam on April 8, 2000 and 3-2 in Accra on April 23, 2000, Ghana were grouped alongside Nigeria, Liberia, Sudan and Sierra Leone in the elimination series.

The Black Stars started the eliminations on a whirlwind by defeating Sierra Leone 5-0 in Accra on July 9, 2000 but surprisingly lost at home 3-1 to Liberia on January 18, 2001. Ghana suffered another defeat at the hands of Sudan at Omdurman on Feb 25 2001.

On March 11, 2001, the Black Stars had an opportunity to beat a depleted Nigerian Super Eagles side but the match ended in a disappointing goalless draw Coach Jones Attuquayefio took a controversial decision to field a virtual Accra Hearts of Oak side and they did not live up to the expectation of the crowd.  The Stars then continued their drawing spree with yet another draw against Sierra Leone in Freetown on May 5, 2001.

The worst was yet to come when Ghana lost 2-1 to Liberia in Monrovia on Ghana’s Republic Day July 1, 2001. There was however small consolation when the Black Stars beat Sudan in Accra on July 15, 2001.  The euphoria was however short-lived as the Black Stars were whipped 3-0 in Port Harcourt on July 28 2001 to end a disastrous World Cup campaign.

The Black Stars conceded three first half goals and to make matters worse, substitute goalkeeper Osei Boateng was sacked in the 43rd minute and had to be replaced by utility player Emmanuel Osei Kufuor. Ghana therefore had to play with ten men for the entire second half.

Line up James Narnor/Osei Boateng/Osei Kufuor Isaac Owusu, Yaw Owusu, Princeton Owusu Ansah, Hamza Mohammed, Mohammed Gargo, Godwin Ablordey, Charles Taylor/Aminu Musa, Kofi Amoako, Fattal Ahmed, Isaac Boakye.

It was to avoid a repetition of this dismal World Cup qualification track record that incensed the nation to put all resources at the disposal of the Black Stars to make qualification for the World Cup top 32 such a wonderful reality.

Cheers everybody and keep loving sports.

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