Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Black Stars - A History of Ghanaian Football

England host Ghana, popularly known as 'The Black Stars' in an international friendly on Tuesday 29th March - in what will be the first ever meeting between the two nations at senior level.

There have been a handful of meetings at youth level, Ghana beat England convincingly 4-0 at the FIFA U20's World Cup two years ago, while England U18's emerged the victors in 2007 in a friendly at the Priestfield Stadium.

A full-house is expected at Wembley stadium including an almost unprecedented 20,000 tickets taken up by fans of the visitors.

The game takes place just a few days after both nations will have played important international fixtures, England in a Euro 2012 qualifier in Wales, and Ghana in a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Congo.

The current crop of British based Ghanaian footballers are certainly excited and looking forward to the first ever meeting between the two sides.

The Sunderland trio of Muntari, Mensah and Asamoah Gyan (right) are in 'The Black Stars' squad for the encounter, and Muntari told BBC Newcastle:

"We want to play, it's at Wembley, against one of the best nations in the world, no one wants to miss big games and important games like this one."

Muntari added: "We've been looking forward to this game for a long time, and even the people in Ghana are looking forward to us playing England, we're just looking forward to the day. We want to win, but we want to play good football and entertain the fans."

Rather that pursue a typical line of red top tabloid journalism, questioning the inadequacies of our own international squad, the FA's shortcomings, the cost of the 'new' Wembley, Capello's salary, or the the latest rather uncomfortable topic of the national team captaincy, I thought I would take this opportunity instead to look at the history of Ghanaian football and some of their most famous players.

The Ghana Amateur Football Association was founded in 1957, soon after the country's independence, and was affiliated to both CAF and FIFA the following year, Englishman George Ainsley being appointed coach of the national team. Before gaining independence from Great Britain in 1957, the country played as the Gold Coast.

Charles Kumi Gyamfi became coach in 1961, and Ghana won successive Africa Cup of Nations titles, in 1963 and 1965. They also reached the final of the tournament in 1968 and 1970, and their domination of this tournament earned the country the nickname of "the Brazil of Africa" in the 1960's.
However the team had no success in FIFA World Cup qualification during this era, and failed to qualify for three successive African Cup of Nations in the 1970's.

They went on to win the African Cup of Nations in 1978 and 1982.

Ghana enjoyed tremendous success at youth level in the 1990's, winning the World Under-17 title twice in 1991 and 1995, and finishing runners-up to Brazil in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 1993 (also known as the World Youth Championships).

However during the 1990's disharmony among the squad, which eventually led to parliamentary and executive intervention to settle issues between two of the team, Abédi Pelé and Anthony Yeboah, may have played some part in the failure of the team to build on the successes of the national underage teams.

By 2004 Ghana had slipped to 89th place in the FIFA World Rankings, but a new generation of players who went to reach the final of the 2001 FIFA Under-20 World Cup (World Youth Championships) became the core of the team at the 2002 African Cup of Nations and the 2004 Olympic Games, and were undefeated for a year in 2005.

Ghana reached the finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, held in Germany, the first time the team had reached the global stage of the tournament. Ghana started with a 2–0 defeat to eventual champions Italy, but wins over the Czech Republic (2–0) and USA (2–1) saw them through to the second round, where they were eventually beaten 3–0 by Brazil.

The Black Stars went on to secure a 100 percent record in their qualification campaign, winning the group and becoming the first African team to qualify for 2010 FIFA World Cup. The World Cup Draw in Cape Town on the 4 December 2009 saw the Ghanaian team drawn alongside Germany, Serbia and Australia in Group D.

They were able to reach the last 16 of the tournament after they finished second in their group behind Germany. In the last 16 they played the USA, defeating them 2–1 in extra time to become only the third African nation to reach the World Cup quarter-finals. They then lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, having missed a penalty in extra time after an almost certain goal was saved off the line by Luis Suarez's deliberately parried handball. Suarez was shown a red card for his actions, but that could not hide the disappointment and injustice felt by Ghana.

Ghana boast an array of talented players that ply their trade all over Europe, including The Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the German Bundesliga.

Famous Ghananian Footballers, both past and present:

Samuel Kuffour - 1993 - 2009
Michael Essien - 2000 - present
Richard Kingson -1995 - present
Tony Yeboah - 1982 - 2003
John Pantsil - 1999- present
Asamoah Gyan - 2003 - present
Sulley Muntari - (right with Beckham) 2002 - present
Kevin-Prince Boateng - 2004 - present
Abedi Pele - 1978 - 2000
Ibrahim Abdul Razak - 1999 - present
Matthew Amoah - 1998 - present
Junior Agogo - 1997 - present

In the 1990's, Abédi Pelé and Tony Yeboah received FIFA World Player of the Year top ten nominations: the following decade Sammy Kuffour and Michael Essien received Ballon d'Or nominations. Abédi Pelé was listed in the 2004 "FIFA 100" greatest living footballers.

On 13 January 2007, the Confederation of African Football voted Abedi Pele, Michael Essien, Tony Yeboah, Ibrahim Abdul Razak and Samuel Kuffour as members of the CAF top 30 best African players of all-time. In addition, Abedi and Yeboah were voted as among of the best African players of the century in 1999 by IFFHS.

The England squad to play Ghana is from:

Goalkeepers: Carson (West Brom), Green (West Ham), Hart (Manchester City)

Defenders: Baines (Everton), Cahill (Bolton), Jagielka (Everton), Johnson (Liverpool), Lescott (Manchester City).

Midfielders: Barry (Manchester City), Downing (Aston Villa), Jarvis (Wolves), Lennon (Tottenham), Milner (Manchester City), Parker (West Ham), Young (Aston Villa), Wilshere (Arsenal);

Strikers: Bent (Aston Villa), Carroll (Liverpool), Crouch, Defoe (both Tottenham)).

England v. Ghana - International Friendly, Tuesday, 29th March 2011, kick off 20:00 BST at Wembley Stadium, live on ITV1.

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