SPORT FLAKES: WHY GHANA MUST GO

Black Stars of Ghana are no good news at all whenever they come against the Super Eagles in the Nations Cup. Win or lose, Nigeria never lifted the continental trophy after confronting the fellow West Africans.

It all started in Accra at Ghana ’78. Green Eagles had earned their first medal, a bronze, two years earlier in Ethiopia and had a formidable squad. Most dreaded was, Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami, who operated from the right flank. When both nations met, he put Nigeria ahead with a first half goal. The Ghanaian equalizer came 14 minutes to time. It ended 1-1.

The Black Stars, captained by ‘Golden Boy’ , Abdul Razaq, progressed to win the cup for keeps while Eagles succumbed 2-1, to lowly Cranes of Uganda in the semi -finals. It was the second time Nigeria would grace the competition in Ghana. In their 1963 debut, they left with a basketful of goals after bowing 6-3 to Egypt and 4-0 to Sudan.

At Cote D’Ivoire ’84, the rivalry continued. Again, Nigeria got the first goal of the game through Henry Nwosu. Ghana ‘s Opoku Nti drew his country level. Chibuzor ‘Mkpurumkpu’ Ehilegbu put the game beyond the opponent with a 31st minute goal which could not be cancelled.

Nigeria made it to the grand finale and for the first time, an Okala would play in the Nations Cup last game. Patrick was in goal for the Eagles, an honour denied elder brother, Emmanuel, four year earlier by Nigeria Football Association officials. The Indomitable Lions rose from one -goal deficit to win the cup 3-1.

Senegal ’92 came and Black Stars captain, Abedi Pele Ayew, was the star attraction. As usual, Nigeria got the opening goal, thanks to Mutiu Adepoju. Abedi responded, Prince Opoku Polley made it 2-1. That semi finals clash was the end of the road for the Eagles who won yet another bronze, their third, after defeating Cameroon 2-1.

I watched the match in Dakar and we all were taunted by Ghanaian fans. At home, Nigerians blamed Austin Eguavoen for allowing Abedi more than enough room to operate. Something Moses Kpakor denied him in a different match in Kumasi before the Nations Cup.

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I walked up to the Ghanaian skipper at the Hotel Diarama and we discussed Eguavoen. Abedi defended the Nigerian defender saying that when Kpakor policed him, it was off season. He explained that the duel in Dakar was a different ball game in which only the very best in the world could stop a very fit as fiddle Abedi Pele.

In 2002, Mali hosted the Nations Cup. Nigeria versus Ghana favoured the Eagles, 1-0, with the goal coming from Garba Lawal. In the semis, Senegal defeated the Super Eagles. Nigerian fans felt the Teranga Lions were no match. It was yet another bronze. However, Senegal showed they were the better side when they got to the quarter finals of the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup.

At the Egypt ‘2006 Nations Cup, Nigeria scored first again and that turned out to be the only goal of the match. It was Taiye Taiwo’s bullet shot. The Eagles settled for their trade mark bronze medal following a 2-0 victory over Senegal in the Third Place match. Two prominent debutants were, Mikel Obi and Obafemi Martins.

Ghana 2008 put the Black Stars in a very tight corner. When they squared up against the Eagles, it looked like a bad day. A red card and a penalty goal by Yakubu Aiyegbeni in the quarter finals put the hosts in real danger. Then they rose from the dead and won 2-1.It was Nigeria’s worst performance since 1963.

The Ghanaian victory was made possible by a player whose name sounded Nigerian, Michael Essien and another who had Kano blood in his veins, Sulley Muntari.

In 2010, Ghana got their revenge. In a game Nigeria could have won, Asamoah Gyan, got the all important winner for the Black Stars. It was the first time the Ghanaians would score first against the Eagles in the Nations Cup proper. Nigeria did not win the cup. The favourite bronze medal appeared for the umpteenth time, thanks to the defeat of Algeria.

Thrice Nigeria won the Nations Cup: 1980, 1994 and 2013. They avoided Ghana. They could have met in the semi finals of Nigeria ’80. The Black Stars were in Ibadan Group B. In the last group match with Morocco, the Nigerian supporters club had to move to Ibadan to support the North Africans.

The fear was that Ghana would prove too hard for the Eagles. Morocco won and lost to Nigeria in the semi finals. Nigeria hit Algeria 3-0 in the grand finale to win the trophy, for the very first time. Why then should compatriots not shout ‘Ghana must go’.