Ghana in disarray ahead of Portugal
Defeat in a match they talked up to win, rumours of a player revolt, the cancellation of a scheduled news conference, an almighty fightback against one of the best teams in the tournament, a plane carrying $3 million in cash to prevent a threatened boycott of a crucial game and the suspension of two high-profile players. These sound like the components for a bad joke -- but it is what Ghana's World Cup campaign has become.
Their latest drama was confirmed less than five hours before their must-win match against Portugal. The Ghana Football Association confirmed the indefinite suspensions of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari, the former for "vulgar verbal insults targeted at the coach" Kwesi Appiah, and the latter for an "unprovoked physical attack" on an FA executive committee member. Those actions deserve punishment but they could also derail the Black Stars' attempts to qualify for the knockout stages in Brazil. The pair may argue the damage had been done before their bust-ups.
Ghana's tournament hopes faded within 30 seconds of them taking the field, when the U.S. took the lead through Clint Dempsey in their opener. In a tough group, that was the match Ghana were banking on winning -- especially as they had been responsible for knocking the U.S. out of the previous two World Cups. That they could not manage a repeat was enough to cause unease and it showed in the camp immediately.
The following day, Appiah cancelled his media engagement and reports of a dispute surfaced. The Ghana FA moved swiftly to quash the stories. "We state emphatically that the report is absolutely false," the body said. The hastiness of their reactions did not douse suspicion as much as it aroused it, especially because Boateng was benched for the match.
Perhaps that is where the battle lines between coach and player were drawn. Indeed, they have contrasting football upbringings. Boateng is a foreign-born (in Germany), foreign-based (Schalke) player who has spent very little time in Ghana or with his Ghanaian teammates. He has even quit the team in the past. Appiah, however, is the first homegrown coach to take the Black Stars to the World Cup. Although he received training at Manchester City and Liverpool, he had never played or managed outside his home country.
Boateng told Sport Bild that Appiah intervened in a joke he was having with his former AC Milan teammate Muntari. He said they were both laughing but Appiah was not amused. He banished them to the changing room and later Boateng claimed Appiah started the argument. Appiah has yet to comment on the matter.
Ghana's coach admitted to sleepless nights because of suggestions his players may protest over money. Ghana's squad were promised an advanced five-figure sum of money each for their appearances at the World Cup, but the fee had not arrived by the end of the first week of the tournament.
Bear in mind that these are not bonuses, it is a fee they were promised irrespective of the results. The situation led to the president of the country, John Dramani Mahama, intervening. He sent a chartered jet loaded with $3 million to ease the situation and ensure the players take the field against Portugal.
To qualify, the team need a win over Portugal and for Germany to secure a comfortable victory over the U.S. For the realists, that scenario may mean Ghana will be joining their notes on the flight home. For the fans, it will be a disappointment more crushing than they were prepared for, given Ghana's past two tournament showings and all the hope that accompanied them to Brazil.
A round of 16 finish in 2006 and a quarterfinal exit in 2010 promised something bigger this time. The pain of the Luis Suarez handball and the Asamoah Gyan missed penalty was going to be erased. In the lead-up to the tournament those things could be believed because Ghana looked as happy a bunch as any.
On June 8, Boateng tweeted a picture of himself with Adam Kwarasy, Michael Essien, the Ayew brothers and Muntari having lunch. Five days later, he had this to say on social media: "That's what we doooooo...enjoying life and football to the max!!!!! #ghanablackstars."
Even after he was left out of the starting XI for the U.S. game, Boateng appeared every bit the team man. His social media account contained the motivational message "Never say never... #ghanablackstars keep going!!!!" Now he and Muntari are the ones going. The team may follow but it won't be to the same place.
Four years ago Ghana were the darlings of Africa, this time they could well be the duds.