Dim hopes in Ghana as Black Stars attempt to end 42-year-old AFCON jinx

Ghana’s shock defeat to Cape Verde has further dimmed fans’ hopes of ending a trophy drought that dates back to 1982.

A Ghanaian supporter reacts during the Africa Cup of Nations 2023 Group B match between Ghana and Cape Verde at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on January 14, 2024 [Franck Fife/AFP]By Emmanuel AyamgaPublished On 16 Jan 202416 Jan 2024

Accra, Ghana – It has been a challenging week for Ghana football.

First, there was a January 8 performance to forget as the Black Stars, ranked 61st in world football, laboured to a goalless draw against 115th-ranked Namibia in front of their home fans in a preparation match in Kumasi.

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Then came a disastrous showing in their opening game of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Abidjan on January 14, where they were largely outplayed and beaten 1-2 by a determined Cape Verde side.

It is a dire situation that has left many fans at a tipping point.

The boiling frustration reached its zenith right after Ghana’s disappointing loss to Cape Verde on Sunday, when an angry supporter confronted Chris Hughton at the team’s hotel lobby, verbally accusing the coach before the timely intervention of Ivorian security officers helped prevent the tense situation from spiralling into outright chaos.

For many Ghanaians, the Black Stars have looked unrecognisable in recent years. From being a team that once oozed class on the pitch – reaching the semifinal of every AFCON from 2008 to 2017 and qualifying for three successive World Cups in 2006, 2010, and 2014 – the national team is currently a characterless unit that no longer strikes fear in its opponents.

Under Hughton, like the last few coaches at the helm, the football has been dreadful, fans and experts say. The issues are stacked; no visible style of play, non-existent attacking intent, atrocious defending and the inability to sometimes string basic passes. Many players who are usually decent for their clubs have been underperforming in the national team.

Even members of the side have admitted to not just being good enough.

“We have always lost concentration at crucial moments,” forward Jordan Ayew admitted after the defeat to Cape Verde.

”We need to be more aggressive, we need to play more, we need to create more chances,” said defender Alexander Djiku.

Cape Verde’s players celebrate after winning at the end of the AFCON Group B football match against Ghana at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on January 14, 2024 [Sia Kambou/AFP]

Little optimism back home

At the last AFCON in Cameroon, the Black Stars crashed out without winning a single game, suffering a shock 1-1 defeat at the hands of minnows Comoros. Fans are already worried about this edition’s outcome.

“There’s no way we [Ghana] can beat Egypt,” longtime Black Stars fan Francis Kungu told Al Jazeera. “Even Mozambique, it will be a miracle if we get a draw. Even if we progress from the group stage, we’ll meet Nigeria and other heavyweights, so I don’t think we have a chance.”

Kungu is not alone. Many of his compatriots are indifferent about the chances of the team in Ivory Coast, a hunch fuelled by Ghana’s poor run of form.

Hughton’s side has won just once in their last six matches. Even worse, the Black Stars have failed to win any of their last five AFCON games, a miserable run that stretches across three tournaments now.

“The team has displayed a lack of confidence since his appointment, notably evidenced in their recent loss to Cape Verde,” Godfred Budu, a Ghana sports journalist who works with Afrik-Foot, told Al Jazeera of the coach. “Hughton’s failure to advance the Black Stars’ playing style has left many Ghanaian football fans feeling pessimistic about the team’s prospects in Ivory Coast.”

For many in Ghana, unconditional support for the national team has now become mere tolerance, and they say it is because the Black Stars have consistently failed to shine at successive tournaments, undoing the bond they used to share with the fans.

Cape Verde’s forward Jovane Cabral (C) fights for the ball with Ghana’s defenders Alexander Djiku and Mohammed Salisu during the AFCON Group B match [Franck Fife/AFP]

Four decades of heartbreak

It has now been more than four decades since Ghana last laid hands on any major piece of silverware, long before any of the current squad members were born. When the iconic Charles Kumi Gyamfi, popular as CK, led the West Africans to the AFCON title in 1982, beating hosts Libya on penalties in the final, no one in this football-loving nation imagined a long drought afterwards. It was the fourth time the Black Stars had won the competition.

Yet multiple generations of Ghanaians have been left wondering when their country will lift the gold-plated trophy again. Sampson Baah was just eight years old when Ghana last won the AFCON. It was during the military regime, and the now 50-year-old recalls the fanfare at the time.

“Cars were honking, our mothers and fathers sang nonstop that day,” Baah tells Al Jazeera. But, he added, in a rather regretful tone: “It’s a shame many of the current generation have never experienced this feeling. As young as I was, the sense of pride and joy was unforgettable. You never forget such times, it’s etched in your mind forever. The current generation deserves that winning feeling too.”

As Ghana prepare to face Egypt in their next group game on Thursday, there is very little expectation of victory among Ghanaians. “I don’t think the drought will end any time soon,” Salim Odametey, another fan, told Al Jazeera. “I have no confidence in them.”

When President Nana Akufo-Addo met the team at a farewell dinner before its departure for Ivory Coast, he tried to tap into Ghana’s famed colonial-era resilience to spark a response from the players on the pitch.

“We are Ghanaians, the first nation south of the Sahara to be free of colonialism and imperialism. We always lead the way, and we do not sit back and watch others,” he rallied them. “We have a skilful, determined squad. Let us not put breaks on them and let us not park the bus.”

In reality, though, as the Black Stars forlornly sit at the bottom of Group B going into their game against Egypt, the last edition’s runners-up, the average Ghanaian fears that it will take a lot for the 42-year losing streak not to be extended.

Source: Al Jazeera