Playing in the bedrock competition of football for the first time in a decade has been anything but a welcome return to the tournament that gave birth to some of Ghana’s best players.
Indeed, the careers of Stephen Appiah, Samuel Osei Kuffour and Michael Essien gained prominence to stardom after starring for the Black Starlets at various editions of the FIFA Under 17 World Cup. Once the delight of the football loving West African nation, the agony of seeing consistent failures to grace the competition over the years have been hard to deal with. Ghana lost 1-6 to rivals Nigeria in one of its failed attempts to make the world stage along the way.
Finally, the team makes it to the talent citadel and what has been on display is nothing to write home about.
The Starlets campaign through two games has been rocky and inconsistent; a win and a loss in two games characterized by disjointed play and a clear lack of direction from the bench.
Head Coach Samuel Fabin is lucky to be at the helm of affairs after failing to qualify in two previous attempts and he is lucky to have been drawn in a group that gives him a big chance to progress to the next stage despite losing to USA.
Far from impressive against Colombia, the Starlets played better against USA but were overmatched by the well drilled Americans for long periods. The stop start form the Starlets take to this afternoon’s tie against India should be of little concern to Ghana’s qualification ambitions.
Despite the improved form of India against Colombia, the team still lacks in areas a physical side like Ghana can exploit. A side with similar physical traits-USA- did just that in the opening game by running out comfortable 3-0 winners. India’s youngsters get easily opened up at the back and with Ghana’s quick wingers including Game One match winner Ibrahim Sadiq on hand, the Starlets can seal a spot in the knockout phase.
However, a lot depends on what Ghana has been poor at the tournament; putting the ball in the net. To get past Colombia as Group A runner up behind USA, the team needs to score more goals else risk making the round of 16 as one of the top four third placed teams. Playing against a relatively weaker opponent gives Fabin and his boys a big chance to improve confidence in front of goal before taking on stronger opponents in the next round.
The team’s progress as a second or third placed side depends on what transpires in the Colombia-USA game where a big Colombia win means the South America will top the group ahead of USA and Ghana. Due to the Starlets 0-1 loss, the Americans will qualify in second place with Ghana placing third which gives more credence to the urgency Fabin needs his team to hit the net frequently.
As things stand, Ghana is on track to meet Group B leaders Paraguay or Group C leaders Iran; countries who do not possess the enviable record Ghana has in the competition. Conversely, both teams represent the new wave of teams coming into their own in recent years as neither side has disappointed. Paraguay beat African Champions Mali en route to a quick spot in the round of 16 while Iran’s 3-0 lead in 30 minutes in the first half against Germany is one of the storylines of the preliminary round. Very few envisaged a situation where the Asian outfit will rank ahead of the European giants and African second runners up Guinea.
Persian football is definitely on the upswing with the senior team qualifying to the World Cup in Russia next year. In two games, Paraguay and Iran have conceded four and one respectively; two of those goals Paraguay conceded were against Mali who beat Ghana to win the African title.
Against such teams, Ghana in its current stage is bound to find progress difficult as it fails to convert chances that surprisingly manifest from ill disciplined tactical play. Beating India is the easy part but the hard part comes after today’s game and the Eric Ayiah-led side should be ready for upcoming tests by sharpening its efficiency in front of goal.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah @YawMintYM on Twitter