Tumo Mokone

Bafana should copy Ghana

2009-10-16 11:42
Tumo Mokone
Tumo Mokone

Tonight Ghana go head to head with Brazil, for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup title. Kickoff is at 8pm (SA time). While Brazil are the bookie’s favourite based on their reputation in world football, and the fact that they are previous three-time winners of the world under-20 title, the smart money backs Ghana to be crowned champions.

An added flavour to the match tonight is that the last time Brazil won this tournament, in 1993 in Australia, they did so by beating another good Ghana side in the final. Ghana had led 1-0 at half-time, before Brazil launched a typical late surge to claim the crown.

The remarkable reality about Ghana’s form during this two-week tournament in Egypt is that if they beat Brazil tonight, very few people would call their achievement a surprise. The West Africans played the best football in the tournament, convincingly winning every match, including a 5-0 lashing of England in the group stages.

It is an irony that the only time Ghana had it tough was against South Africa, who allowed their opponents to equalise and force the game into extra time during the last-16 round. Needless to say, the Ghanaians ultimately subdued Amajita and, at the end our boys appeared to have been fortunate to get away with just a 2-1 defeat.

The reason I am picking on Ghana’s performance is that it is my wish that South African authorities adopt the development model used by that country to run our dysfunctional structures here in South Africa.  Our under-20 team tried their best but Ghana were two notches above, in terms of technical ability and physical conditioning.

In 1992, when South Africa was readmitted by FIFA, we were naive about the realities of international soccer after years in isolation. We were driven by the passion for the game and an exaggerated belief in our ability. The latter was also fuelled by the fact that we drew a friendly series against Cameroon for our first three internationals, all played at home.

We only woke up to harsh realities of international football when we started playing official matches, in the qualifying matches for 1994 World Cup and 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. We lost heavily to the likes of Nigeria and Zimbabwe, and also earned the 4by4 nickname, which alluded to the four-goal score-lines against us those days.

Needless to say, Nigeria qualified ahead of us for USA ’94, which was won by Brazil under Carlos Alberto Parreira. 

As far as the 1996 AFCON was concerned, Lady Luck smiled on us when the tournament was handed to SA after the initial host, Kenya, withdrew for financial reasons. This meant SA had to pull out of the qualifying competition. This proved to be a saving grace for Bafana Bafana because when the 1996 AFCON started in January of that year, our team were looking good and strong. Among our victims en route to the final were Ghana.

The Ghana team we beat had great stars such as Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah among others. The team however was ageing after conquering the continent for many years in previous battles. Because Ghana had too much in that star-studded team, the coach was under pressure to retain it in its entirety, and thus neglecting blooding new talent.

 After the 1996 shock, Ghana were down for the next four years until they sent a very young team to the 2001 U-20 World Cup. They reached the final, where they lost to the tournament hosts, Argentina. The Ghanaian squad had then unknown youngsters such as Michael Essien, John Mensah, Ibrahim Abdul Razzak, Derek Boateng, John Pantsil and Sulley Muntari, who are among the current stars in the senior Ghana side.

That team was kept together for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, and in the process achieved something no other Ghana team had managed to do before: to beat Bafana Bafana. They gave our boys two 3-0 hidings – in Johannesburg and in Accra. They duly qualified for Germany 2006, but before going there, in the same year Ghana hosted what is believed to be the best AFCON tournament ever.

Egypt won the title, but Ghana gave the most scintillating performance of the performance with their positive approach and matches with a very high entertainment value. At this stage the youngsters of 2003 were now playing for big-name teams in Europe.  

It is also important to mention that Ghana became the first African country to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They did so in September, when the rest of the big soccer nations on the continent were still fighting tooth and nail to make it. They have since been joined by neighbours Ivory Coast, who also boast an effective youth policy.

If the new executive at the SA Football Association (SAFA) are serious about fixing the problems that saw Bafana Bafana plummet to the league of the whipping boys, then they must ask for help in Ghana. We must learn to swallow our pride and admit that other African countries do things a lot better than us.

Fortunately, the under-20 coach who was in charge in Egypt, Serame Letsoaka, has now been elevated to the position of technical director of SA football. In his report Letsoaka must have a lot to say about Ghana,  that is if he is serious to turn the fortunes of SA football around according to the primary objective of his new position.

Apart from borrowing from the Ghana model, Letsoaka can also recommend to his SAFA bosses for a coaching exchange programme involving development coaches of both countries. SA football has enough money to solely fund such a programme. I don’t think Ghana will have a problem assisting us.  The challenge is on SAFAto start being proactive about sorting the mess that is called SA football.

Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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