AFCON 2021: 14 years on Ghana face Morocco, but this time as underdogs

afcon 2021 14 years on ghana face morocco but this time as underdogs
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Ghana kicks off its AFCON campaign with a clash versus the Atlas Lions of Morocco, in a fixture fit to be described as an early final.

The Black Stars are pillars of African football, annexing the AFCON title on four occasions meanwhile Morocco, who have won the title just once, have grown into prominence and are one of Africa’s football powerhouses.

The two teams are expected to take first and second places in Group C, with Comoros and even Gabon who can boast of the luxury of Aubameyang brushed aside.  

2008 Group A AFCON clash

In 2008, the Black Stars saw off Morocco in a clinical first half performance. Goals from Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari were enough for Ghana to triumph in Group A’s top clash.

The Stars were at the top of their game, the environment which surrounded the team was one of optimism and with the backdrop of the tournament taking place in Ghana, Ghanaians were in full support.

The names of Asamoah Gyan, Essien, Muntari, Richard Kingson, Anthony Annan, Junior Agogo, John Mensah and John Painstil were enough to fill the country with hope.

Despite falling in the semifinal to Cameroon, who are hosting 2021’s showpiece, the Stars held their own against the rest of the continent.

Ghana finished 3rd after beating arch rivals Nigeria.

AFCON 2021, Group C opener

On another Monday 13 years later, Ghana faces off with Morocco in the African Cup of Nations once more but this time with much less support from Ghanaians.

For a catalogue of reasons which does not exclude poor planning and administrative influence, the light of the Stars have been lost on majority of Ghanaians.

Ahead of the 2008 game the squad value of Ghana was €28m more than that of Morocco’s. Fast forward 2021, the Black Stars are now €86.57m behind the North African counterparts.

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Perhaps the overall confidence of Morocco and the Atlas Lions can be visualized in Vahid Halilhodzic’s decision to leave Chelsea star, Hakim Ziyech out of his squad. On the other hand, the Black Stars have named an unfit Mohammed Kudus in the squad, and hoping the Ajax star will join the team in Cameroon.

Also in 2008, the Black Stars were trailing the Atlas Lions by only four places on FFIA’s world rankings but Ghana (52) is now 24 spots off the North Africans (28) on FIFA’s rankings.

Black Stars hope?

Despite the overall gloomy picture previewing the spectacle, Ghana cannot be written off.

Black Stars captain Dede Ayew, who was just 19 in 2008 and will go on to win Africa’s first u20 world title a year later, has confidence in a team which has defied the odds to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup Qualifiers.

“We know that people are seeing us as underdogs but it’s part of football. Teams have proved that they have progressed, teams have proved that they can win a lot of games in a row. We didn’t win a lot of games in a row so it’s normal that they want to see us as underdogs, but we take it with a lot of determination, hunger to prove that Ghana will never die.

“These guys have had the opportunity to prove themselves in front of the world, not just Africa. My teammates are guys with great talents, some are very young but the talent is top. So we are just there to help and first of all we are there to do our job,” the captain said in his pre-match press conference.

And it is perhaps a fair assessment of the national team. The big names of Ghana’s recent past are unavailable and the team has endured a terrible period but there are new names eager to ease off tales of the old.

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Rennes’ Kamaldeen Sulemana after a covid-19 scare has joined the Black Stars and Morocco’s PSG right back Achraf Hakimi will not be so delighted.

The two were pitted against each other in Rennes’ game versus PSG. Besides setting up the opener for Rennes’ the forward who shared the same pitch with Lionel Messi and Neymar, won the most duels and dribbles in the game.

The case of African upset also plays nicely into Ghana’s hands. The African Cup of Nations down the years has been one studded with multiple upsets.

It was unimaginable that Cameroon was going to beat Egypt in the 2017 final. Three years ago, Morocco themselves were on the receiving end of the AFCON upsets.

Morocco lost to Benin, who played with ten men for the final 23 minutes of extra time, in the second round of AFCON 2019.

Also Vahid Halilhodzic’s has not had the best of times in Africa. Despite taking Algeria to their first knockout phase in the FIFA World Cup, the Bosnian coach’s period with Ivory Coast in 2010 will be a memory he wishes to do away with.

Leading 2-1 and with just a minute led few minutes to spare to end the game, the Ivorians crumbled and lost to Algeria

Milo on the other hand has fond memories of his first stint with the Black Stars and even though they lost to Egypt in the final, the performance in the 2010 World Cup and AFCON set the Black Stars apart.

His arrival came at a time Ghanaians had given up on the national team and after working his magic then, the Serb believes he can lead the Stars to win over Ghanaians once more.

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“2010 was great, we had a beautiful recollection of that event. Many didn’t believe in our team and that time we were very close to winning that cup, we couldn’t count on some players and our group was great and a group of players, and we were fighting throughout the competition and we were very close at that time. I still believe that we were a better team in that final, were a little bit unlucky at the end,” he said.

“Now the situation is almost the same of course if you looking at FIFA ranking we are not in the right position than before but that doesn’t mean anything necessarily since many teams want to win this cup and many have written to think they can win the cup and there’s no difference for us. We know how much this is important and how if we do this the whole country will be happy.

“We can only promise that were are going to do our best to go match by match because for us every next match is the most important in a career in life so of au is of the challenge and we are going to do our best, how to achieve this goal and make everybody happy.”

Evidently Milo will be looking for the spark from 2010 but the Black Stars are going into the fixture on the back of an underwhelming 3-0 defeat to Algeria but Morocoo are in very strong form. The Atlas Lions have since October 2019 not lost in regular time, losing only to Algeria on penalties in the final of the FIFA Arab Cup.

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