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2022 World Cup: Black Stars need to rise to the occasion in Qatar

The Black Stars are staging a return to the World Cup, and despite being in a tough group, must rise to the occasion...

2022 World Cup: Black Stars need to rise to the occasion in Qatar

The World Cup remains the single greatest sporting event on earth. It is a football tournament in which every single continent on the planet is best represented.

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Qualified countries all over the world assemble in one chosen country. Across a small number of cities, competitive matches are played.

Several thousand people pack things into travelling bags and book their flights to the host country. Millions tune in from the comfort of their homes to follow proceedings.

Bit by bit, from the blast of the first whistle of the first game to when the tournament finally draws to a close, little else will seem to matter more.

The World Cup will inevitably take centre stage, and our print media and television stations and airwaves will be littered with football content; which countries won and which ones did not, which players made the difference and which ones did not.

A number of gifted players would be anointed as heroes, but then a torrent of curses would be rained down on villains who cost their countries. No doubt, football fanatics all over the world will speak night and day of this tournament, even long after it has come to a successful close.

For Ghana, our long wait for this prestigious tournament is finally over. In 2018 when France went all the way and emerged triumphant in Russia, the Black Stars were not there. We were not there when Russia shockingly eliminated Spain in the last-16.

Black Stars were not there when France and Mbappe painfully shredded Messi’s World Cup ambitions into a million tiny pieces.

This time round the story is different. Ghana will be present when the tournament finally comes around in Qatar. And so the question on everybody’s lips is how well can the Black Stars fare in a group many consider to be the ‘Group of Death’.

Grouped with Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea, in the eyes of many Ghana has not the slightest chance to survive. This is the cold reality.

We may have qualified out of a difficult group in the World Cup once before. We may have even played in the quarter-final of the World Cup once before. And yet, the past is not the present. Success enjoyed years ago will not necessarily beget success in the days to come. Times have changed and times are different. Indeed, the glory days have grown old. This is the cold reality.

It could be scholarly argued that the Black Stars are on many levels well-equipped to surmount any obstacle at the 2022 World Cup. One could point out that the prudent additions of foreign-born players of Ghanaian descent such as Inaki Williams, Tariq Lamptey and what have you, undoubtedly beef up the squad.

Their inclusions certainly add more depth and strength to the team. What’s more, they regularly play high-level European football for their various teams at club level.

Additionally, the splendid form of a number of Ghanaian footballers plying their trade abroad is encouraging enough. In England, particularly London, word has it that Thomas Partey is simply irreplaceable, that he is the ticking heartbeat of the Arsenal midfield, a sort of lifeblood to their title push.

Mohammed Salisu continues to excite at Southampton. Leicester City’s Amartey remains a key player for Brendan Rogers. Meanwhile, a little further away from England, on Dutch soil, Mohammed Kudus’s meteoric rise in the Eredivisie has left many singing his praises no end.

To some reasonable extent, if you are a Ghanaian the aforementioned fills you with a little bit of hope. The Black Stars may still not be what it once was. But surely what is broken can be fixed, what is lost can be found, what is dying can be healed. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was special and still remains in living memory.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil, by way of contrast, remains highly forgettable for the great divide and disunity reported to have developed in camp. On many levels, that particular World Cup in Brazil perfectly illustrated to the world at large that a house divided against itself shall always fall. Looking into the future, what memories will the 2022 World Cup in Qatar bequeath to us?

If recent friendly games against Brazil and Nicaragua are anything to go by, then the Black Stars are in for an early exit in Qatar. Ghana remains the lowest-ranked team of all the teams to have qualified for Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Ghana is also in the “Group of Death”. Certainly, the odds are stacked against us. And if ever there is a time for the Black Stars to rise to the challenge, this is certainly it. Who knows, an impressive run at the World Cup may provide a little joy to a country hopelessly wrestling with economic crisis.

And so for these precious few weeks, as the afternoon sun shines hot and the evening wind blows cold, the world will unite in Qatar. There will be times where the Black Stars will rise to the occasion to our delight. There will be times, too, where they will drive many of us to the very edge of despair. Either way, this too shall pass and life shall go on.

The stage is now set, the pressure is now on, and the lights are shinning brightest. With bated breath, the people of Ghana, even the ones in the far reaches of the world, will monitor the Black Stars and openly or furtively wish them well. Wins will be cherished and treasured, losses will simply not.

By Bright Antwi

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