The westerners’ gutsy display against one of Africa’s finest and the reward it yielded may have been no mere oddity
By: Sammie Frimpong
It was an opinion for which already unpopular Ghana Football Association president Kwesi Nyantakyi was ridiculed for.
“The fact that the South African Premier [Soccer] League is the most resourced does not mean that it is the best in terms of quality football,” Nyantakyi said at a seminar last year.
His next words, suggesting that the Ghanaian elite division was in better health than the PSL, won him fewer admirers. Africa’s ‘model’ league inferior to a championship whose start had been delayed by protests and a lack of sponsorship?
The very idea seemed foolish; at the time, it certainly did ring hollow.
But after Ghanaian top-flight campaigners Medeama thumped South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns 2-0 on Wednesday to sneak through to the 2016 Caf Confederation Cup’s group phase on a 3-3 aggregate via the away goals rule, it probably doesn’t anymore.
Let’s be honest: Medeama, holders of Ghana’s FA Cup, had no business edging Sundowns. True, the Tarkwa-based outfit had shown guts in seeing off Al-Ittihad Tripoli and Al Ahly Shendi, opponents in the competition’s earlier rounds.
Against mighty Sundowns, however, they were required to dig deep into their reserves — reserves that seemed somewhat shallow, were their domestic campaign any accurate yardstick.
Bundled out of the FA Cup and not very high on the league log, with rumours rife regarding animosity between head coach Tom Strand and the club’s hierarchy, the Yellow and Mauves looked like the sort of opponents Sundowns could wipe out without trace. And Medeama scoring a daring early goal in Pretoria didn’t halt Sundowns’ torrent, which the ‘Bafana Bastyle’ curiously reserved for the game’s final minutes.
The only thing more damaging than Medeama returning to Ghana for a challenging second leg with a two-goal deficit was returning with that debt and without Strand, with the Swede picking the trip as a perfect opportunity to resign and go AWOL. The timing couldn’t have been worse, and Sundowns’ boss Pitso Mosimane could have sworn his charges were going to take a stroll in Sekondi-Takoradi. It’s good he didn’t, though, because they didn’t.
The hosts, courtesy goals from Bernard Ofori and Malik Akowuah, turned the tie on its head and sailed through. Never mind Mosimane claiming intimidation and poor refereeing decisions were what chiefly aided Medeama — you just gotta feel for the brother!
Really, what wouldn’t a man say in explaining how a struggling Ghanaian team could eliminate the South African premiership’s record winners who are just a victory away from sealing an seventh title with a record haul of points, current owners of the country’s two major cups, and a club so well-endowed that they can regularly afford shopping for players on other continents?
More than underlining Sundowns’ own flaws, however, Medeama’s feat may just be the proof Nyantakyi needed, albeit belated, to back his argument, even though some would opt to dismiss it as a one-off.
If the massive package Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko sold earlier this month proved there’s still life in domestic football, Medeama’s achievement was a reminder that hopes of success — even if only of a relative sort — on the continental front isn’t dead either.
Love him or not, Nyantakyi wasn’t too wide off the mark.