Can fasting, prayers and luck aid Ghana’s World Cup campaign?

Despondence and disarray are rife in the Ghana team ahead of the World Cup.

Optimism is not high in Ghana ahead of the World Cup [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

Previous World Cup appearances: 2006, 2010, 2014
Titles: 0
Best finish: Quarter-finals (2010)
World Cup record: W4 D2 L6
Goals: 13
Biggest win: 2-0 vs Czech Republic (2006)
Player to watch: Thomas Partey
Ranking: 61
Fixtures: Portugal (November 24), South Korea (November 28), Uruguay (December 2)

At the start of 2022, Ghana’s national football team was at its lowest ebb.

Eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) at the group stage and facing the prospect of a World Cup qualifying playoff against Nigeria, the prognosis was bleak and a place in Qatar World Cup was far from probable.

Ghana FA’s decision to sack Milovan Rajevac and hand the reins to former international Otto Addo at short notice was the ultimate gamble. Employed within the Borussia Dortmund youth setup in Germany, Addo had no experience of coaching at senior level and came with no guarantees.

It proved a masterstroke as the Black Stars edged the two-legged playoff against Nigeria on away goals and secured a place at the World Cup, having missed out in 2018.

Otto Addo
Otto Addo (left) helped secure Ghana’s qualification for the upcoming World Cup  [Susana Vera/Reuters]

It was only 12 years ago that, in becoming the third African side to reach the last-eight and only the second to advance to the knockout phases in back-to-back World Cups, things were looking up for Ghana.

But that momentum was halted when the Black Stars crashed out in the group stage in 2014, making headlines after flying $3m in cash out to Brazil to assuage squad unrest over unpaid bonuses.

Since reaching the 2015 AFCON final, there has been an unmistakable slide. Making it to the World Cup arrested that, but six months later some of the shine has gone off the rose.

A number of factors have now cast doubt over the Black Stars prospects in Qatar, and going into the World Cup, the mood in the streets of Accra and Kumasi is overwhelmingly negative.

“People are not too excited about the fact that the Black Stars do not seem to have a team, even after so many months and playing in qualifiers,” Ghanaian journalist Saddick Adams told Al Jazeera. “Resentment has been there since the disastrous AFCON campaign in January.”

Since scraping past Nigeria in March, Ghana have only won two of their subsequent six matches – against Madagascar and Nicaragua. In between, they have drawn with Central African Republic and Chile, and suffered heavy three-goal margin defeats at the hands of Japan and Brazil.

These dismal results – as well as the lethargic, unimaginative performances that accompanied them and some puzzling personnel choices – have called into question Addo’s ability to manage the Black Stars.

It has also led many to question over his continued involvement with Borussia Dortmund: the reluctance to commit to the national team full time has been deemed an indication of a lack of commitment and investment on his part.

This lack of clarity reflects poorly on the Ghana FA, according to African football expert Mark Gleeson.

“The fact that they have a coach who has had no coaching experience at senior level, and seemed to have appointed this man on a wing and a prayer really, and then kept him after getting past Nigeria, which as you know, was a completely fortuitous result. To my mind, that beggars belief,” Gleeson told Al Jazeera.

“That’s just shows the FA’s decision-making is fairly amateurish and I think they’re going to pay the price for that, which is a real pity.”

With so much background noise, there is a real chance Ghana could implode in Qatar.

Their prospects are hardly bright as is, given their draw. In Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea, they will face the ghosts of World Cups past, as well as some of the premier attackers in world football: Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Son Heung-Min (injury permitting), to name a few.

There has been little to smile about for Ghana fans in recent years [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

“It’s actually sad. If Ghana had their act together, Group H is not as difficult as it looks on paper,” journalist Solace Chukwu told AlJazeera.

“Uruguay are in a transitional phase at the moment. Fernando Santos’ negativity, in addition to an ageing defence, is holding Portugal back; and Korea are always competitive. This is far from a hopeless group. It’s just a shame Ghana are so lacking in organisation at the moment.”

The Ghana FA’s latest preparatory gambit, the announcement of two days of prayer and fasting, has led to widespread derision.

Seventy-one percent of Ghana’s population is Christian, with 17 percent Muslim and a small segment adhering to traditional indigenous religions.

Those statistics understate the fervency of everyday faith, but whether an appeal to the divine will be of any actual benefit to the Black Stars’ chances in Qatar remains to be seen.

Source: Al Jazeera