It was tough and a bit embarrassing watching Ghana Black Stars ‘B’ labour against an energetic Super Green Eagles of Nigeria side in the last group game of the 2017 FOX Sports West African Football Union (WAFU) Nations Cup on Monday night.
Ghana were just a pale shadows of themselves in their defeat to Nigeria, considering the zest with which the team had played in their last two games. But in the match against Nigeria it seemed the players were weary.
The local Black Stars without a shred of doubt, had shown massive signs of improvement in this tournament after the first game against the Gambia, which they won not so convincingly through a controversial penalty goal. That particular game left many Ghanaian fans –many of whom were still recovering from the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) elimination- with little hope in the team winning the tournament as host.
However, knowing how Ghanaian fans love football and their national teams, they were prepared to give the team a second chance to prove themselves in the tournament, hence the massive support they have received at the Cape Coast Stadium thus far. Indeed the Black Stars B utilized the opportunity and came to the party in the first two games of the group stages.
As hosts, the team rode on the back of the unflinching support from the fans to overcome a highly intensive and physical opposition in Mali (2-0) and Guinea (1-0) to secure a place in the semifinals of the competition.
Besides the fact that the two previous group games had a toll on the players, the lack of adequate rest for the players to recover properly in this competition has been a major source of concern. Players will have to play after every 48 hours which puts a lot of strain on them.
Ghana has made little alteration to the starting eleven from the first day of the competition. Winful Cobbinah, Vincent Atinga and Stephen Sarfo were all given a starting role from the group stage after missing the Gambia game – the only changes from the Gambia match. The same team that played Mali in the first group game played Guinea within 48 hours.
Coach Konadu should have rested some of his key players against Nigeria, since Ghana had completed her mission of qualifying from the group and knowing that, regardless of the results in the last group games, Ghana would still maintain her position as leaders of the group.
But this wasn’t to be, as Konadu decided to maintain a similar side against Nigeria with the only exclusion being Thomas Abbey, who was not fit after the Guinea game. It was quite surprising to see skipper Isaac Twum (who had played all three games) in the line-up, after the technical team had confirmed that he had sustained an injury during the warm up session. No wonder Twum lasted only seven minutes on the pitch playing through injury before being substituted and replaced by Ahmed Adams.
It was evident right from the start of the game that the Black Stars B players were fatigued with their lethargic approach to play and the rate at which they pulled muscles during the game. Vincent Atinga in the 30th minute was seen holding the back of his thigh and limping after clearing a ball on the touchline.
A key component of the team, Gideon Waja, who was treated several times during the game was eventually pulled out due to muscle injury in the second half and was replaced by Kevin Andoh. Waja’s left thigh was later seen wrapped in an ice pack. Deputy Captain Amos Frimpong meanwhile was made to play the entire duration of the game with an injury after colliding with a Nigerian defender. Ghana had then exhausted all 3 substitutions – all through injuries.
The technical team of Nigeria however must be commended for the perfect way they have managed their players’ in the competition so far. In the game against Ghana for instance, they made five changes to the starting team that drew against Mali in their previous game. This was an attempt, obviously to add more energy and strength to their team, and also protect them from injuries as their recovery process was key.
The maximum rest period Ghana could have before playing their next semi-final game is approximately 48 hours. This shows how tight the competition’s schedules are, piling up matches for these poor players and the pressure put on them. That notwithstanding, these players were playing actively for their respective domestic clubs before the WAFU Cup of Nations started and so they did not get the needed rest.
The players will return to their various domestic clubs immediately after the tournament to finish the season. The intensity of matches at the end of every season for clubs awaits them and the players will be burned out by the time the season ends.
So Konadu should have managed the players by shuffling his card in the Nigeria game, at least it could have saved some of the key players in the Ghanaian team from injury.
Was it not obvious from the Nigeria loss that some of the Black Stars B players needed rest, having played in all the games so far? What about the other unused players in the team?
It remains unclear whether the injured players can continue with the rest of the tournament. Now, which of these defeats is more upsetting, a defeat to Nigeria (which wouldn’t have affected the team in anyway) or the loss of influential players in the team (which could affect our chances in the rest of the campaign.
By Dennis Osei Gyamfi