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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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Brilliance of Suarez brings only bitter memories for Ghana ahead of Germany clash

The Black Stars are again carrying African hopes in this World Cup, and tomorrow they must shine.

Mikey Stafford reports for TheScore.ie from Fortaleza

IF THERE WERE any Ghanaians in the beachside Fortaleza bar watching England suffer at the hands of Luis Suarez they were keeping their emotions in check.

While the rest of us whooped and hollered at the sheer deliciousness of the much-maligned and then widely-lauded Liverpool striker all but ending England’s World Cup in typically clinical fashion,  the fans of the Black Stars gathering in the city for tomorrow’s Group D clash with Germany might allow themselves a rueful smile.

photo 1 Mikey's office in Fortaleza. Source: Mikey Stafford.

Suarez’s last act in a World Cup was the deliberate handball that denied Dominic Adiyiah a goal in the last minute of extra-time of their quarter-final four years ago. The story is well-worn at this stage: Suarez was red carded, Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty and Uruguay advanced to the semi-final at the expense of Ghana, who would have made history as the first African team to reach the last four.

In Soweto that night Suarez claimed that the “hand of God now belongs to me” after he was paraded around the pitch on the shoulders of his team-mates. Yesterday the striker embraced  veteran midfielder Diego Perez and wept before being hoisted from the dugout once more on the shoulders of his team-mates.

Suarez has been rehabilitated in the eyes of the World Cup, his sins absolved, and Uruguay once more have an excellent opportunity to advance to the last 16 — just as his “victims” from four years ago see their hopes hanging by a thread.

In their previous finals campaigns, in 2006 and 2010, the Black Stars have advanced to the knockout stages thanks, in part, to narrow group stage victories over the United States.

Drawn this year alongside European superpowers Germany and Portugal, Ghana desperately needed to keep up their fine record against Jurgen Klinsmann’s side in Natal on Monday, but were undone late on by a header from unknown German-American defender John Brooks.

Lethal

The 2-1 defeat leaves Kwesi Appiah’s side in a hole that they must start digging themselves out of tomorrow evening at Estadio Castelao against Germany, arguably the most impressive side from the first round of group matches.

Joachim Low’s side do not possess a striker of Suarez’s lethal ability — in fact they don’t possess a striker full-stop — but that did not stop them from scoring four goals against Portugal. If Ghana are to keep up their 100% record in World Cup group stages they will almost certainly need to take something from tomorrow’s match.

A tall order but there is no denying the talent among Ghana’s squad. Gyan may have stumped for the delights of the UAE over Sunderland but his record of a goal almost every two international matches is impressive. The Ayew brother of Marseilles, Andre and Jordan, possess much of the talent of their father Abedi Pele, three time African footballer of the year.

Midfielders Kwadwo Asamoah and Sulley Muntari are consistent Serie A regulars with Juventus and Milan, while Michael Essien’s recovery from a toe injury will offer huge experience to a midfield that will have to be at its combative best against Germany.

The Ghana Football Association (GFA) this week had to deny reports of a bust-up between the squad and coach Appiah, but the Black Stars are a well-organised and well-funded operation.

Soccer - FIFA World Cup 2014 - Group G - Ghana v USA - Estadio das Dunas Source: Gavin Barker

England’s 72-person entourage in Brazil is already being used as a stick to beat Roy Hodgson’s side but Ghana’s traveling party is of a similar size.

While Cameroon’s campaign began with their players’ traditional protest over tournament bonuses and effectively ended with Alex Song’s stupid elbow on Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic and Benoit Assou-Ekotto headbutting his team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo, Ghana and their fans expect more.

Goran Stepanovic was fired in 2012 after finishing fourth in the African Nations Cup and while Appiah — along with Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi the only African coach of an African finalist — has been awarded a new two-year contract he knows failure will not be easily accepted.

Soccer - FIFA World Cup 2014 - Group G - Ghana v USA - Estadio das Dunas Source: Gavin Barker

Ahead of the World Cup France’s Senegalese-born World Cup winner Patrick Vieira spoke of African football’s need to be better organised but the Black Stars cannot fall back on familiar excuses about mismanagement.

They have travelled to Brazil with three physiotherapists, two therapists, chefs and psychologists. They have wisely based themselves in Maceio, the state capital of the nearby state of Alagoas, which enjoys a similar tropical climate to Fortaleza, Natal and Brasilia — the venues for their first round games.

During half-time of the England-Uruguay game viewers were treated to advertisements featuring Pele selling shampoo and sandwiches. He absence from Brazilian television’s army of past players-turned-pundits is conspicuous and his most famous football prediction to date remains his 1977 assertion that an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000.

Ten years after that deadline had passed Ghana came closer than anyone, until the intervention of Suarez. He is tormenting others now and the Black Stars know they must shine tomorrow.

‘In the company of one waiter and three excitable customers, we watched the demise of tiki-taka’

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Mikey Stafford

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