The Black Stars coach gave all Ghanaians a timely reminder of the free flowing football of old, as his side put up a five-star performance
He’s back. This time with a swagger that sweeps off even the most ardent of doubters. Kwesi Appiah’s much-anticipated seconding coming brought everything that many Ghanaians had wished to see in the last two years: the free-flowing football, the purposefulness and the ruthlessness that the Black Stars just couldn’t find.
In a near-packed Baba Yara stadium, the home fans chanted and cheered the Black Stars on for 90 minutes. Two hours before the game, the Kumasi fans were already present; singing and dancing to welcome the players. The euphoria was one of a kind; one never seen in the past months. It was a clear departure from the apathy shown in the past. But key to that change in development was Kwesi Appiah. A man who has brought back that feel-good factor.
The Black Stars for the past 24 months have frustrated fans with the type of football on display. Under Avram Grant the team looked lost when in possession, undecided when chances sprung up, and totally lethargic when on the big stage.
But against Ethiopia the Black Stars were a new proposition all together. By the tenth minute Ghana was already ahead thanks to a deflected header from Asamoah Gyan – his 50th international goal – after some good work down the left flank by Thomas Agyepong. John Boye, Raphael Dwamena (brace) and Ebenezer Ofori all added to the scoreline to annihilate the East Africans by five goals to nil.
The clash against Ethiopia was by no means flawless, but here, the Black Stars were all over the Walias, leaving them with no breathing space. The transition from defense to attack was fast and looked meditated; the wingers looked up to task as they ran riots on the flanks, while the problematic striking role now looks stocked with options. In short, it was a performance that Ghanaians have not seen in a while.
One notable criticism of erstwhile Black Stars coach Avram Grant was the fact that he did not encourage competition in the squad. Players felt they were entitled to their positions irrespective of their outputs on the field. The decision to trust just a few selected players undoubtedly limited the chances of other talents.
And that deficit was always evident when the Black Stars needed inspiration from the bench. However, Kwesi Appiah is on track to making sure that is a thing of the past. Sunday’s 5-0 thumping of Ethiopia was a statement win. Just like in his first coming when he led the Black Stars to whitewash Lesotho by seven goals to one, this was a performance of sort.
READ ALSO: Video: Asamoah Gyan: I am Andre Ayew’s idol
Some may argue that it is early days yet to start ringing the praise bells. And that assertion might not be far-fetched. However, Appiah’s impact cannot also be understated too. The former Al Khartoum boss, despite playing just a game after his reappointment, has reinstated the believe that the Black Stars lacked.
He has created the kind of competition that Avram Grant killed, the kind of substitute bench that the Israeli never had. On Sunday the 56-year-old assembled a Black Stars squad without the likes of Mubarak Wakaso, Agyemang Badu, Baba Rahman and Christian Atsu, yet managed to produce the goods. On another day – with Grant – the Black Stars would have labored without the aforementioned players.
Other previous mainstays like Afriyie Acquah and Jordan Ayew were also left on the bench for the Ethiopia clash – the kind of bold decision Grant shirked. Not only did the former Chelsea boss completely shut the doors of the national team on young players, he also alienated local talents. Grant overran the rule on what it takes to earn a call-up: he chose reputation over exploit, unnecessary diplomacy over equity, and a blatant disregard for hard work.
Not even inheriting a youthful squad built by his predecessors could help relax his intransigence. But here, the architect of the Israeli’s ammunition was back again in the fold. Just like he brought in Atsu, Wakaso and Afful Harrison – who all became integral members of the Black Stars – the likes of Agbeyenu Lumor, Thomas Agyepong, Ebenezer Ofori and Raphael Dwamena have also been given their own bow.
A team that looked so out of sorts suddenly has players competing in all departments. Some players used to walk into the Black Stars XI without working for it. Now, that will no longer be the case.
Baba Rahman will return from injury knowing very well that a certain Lumor is pushing his back so hard for that left-back spot. Atsu will know that staying on the bench at Newcastle United will now mean consigning himself to the bench of the Black Stars because Thomas Agyepong has auditioned wonderfully in his position. Jordan Ayew is aware he is no longer an undisputed starter, as Raphael Dwamena tries to steal that role from him.
Then the new kid on the block: Ebenezer Ofori finally got his chance on the big stage. The Stuggart midfielder barely put a foot wrong, displaying an assured performance that left the Kumasi fans clapping off their seats after he fired home a thunderous shot from the right side. But the truth is, none of the debutants would have come near the Black Stars under Grant, not to talk of the home-based players that were added to the squad.
It’s still early days to read too much into this encounter, especially as Ethiopia is no mean opposition. But the signs are so clear, and the Black Stars faithful present at the Baba Yara stadium saw enough under Kwesi Appiah on Sunday than they ever saw during Avram Grant’s two year stint.