NON-STARTER: WHY EGYPT MAY HAVE SUFFERED A ‘NATURAL’ DEATH

The outcome of one game in Ghana’s chase of a Brazil 2014 slot so ‘strange’ that it ‘must have’ been fixed may not have been so strange after all

By: Sammie Frimpong

It’s almost a scandal, but it probably shouldn’t be.

The Ghana Sports newspaper, on Monday, claimed the Ministry of Youth and Sports, with the connivance of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), spent over $700,000 on unspecified items described as “unclassified” and “indemnity” payments, widely believed to be bribes, on the senior national team’s quest for qualification to the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

And while the GFA has done little more than fend off the allegations with a concise but fairly strong-worded it-wasn’t-me statement, providing no real evidence (if any exists) in support of its innocence, it does seem unlikely that at least one — if not all — of Ghana’s qualifiers for said tournament had to be negotiated with a bribe.

Believe what you will (and any genuine proof which may emerge in the future could undermine this stance, mind) but, of all four sides the Black Stars played, Egypt hardly looked like the one that ought to be softened up first with a $400,000-odd bribe to be beaten.

The Pharaohs definitely hadn’t come all the way in the qualification series — swatting aside tricky customers like Guinea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe — only to deliberately give the ticket up to Ghana without a fight.

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Having never appeared at a Fifa World Cup since 1990, the North Africans had more than enough inspiration to secure what would have been only a third Mundial appearance in their history. Besides, qualifying for Brazil 2014 would also have been quite a boost in the long-term. You see, domestic Egyptian football had been knocked flat by political upheaval at the time while the national team itself — once so dominant that they’d already conquered Africa seven times — had missed two successive editions of the Nations Cup. Clearly, Egypt needed that World Cup ticket ever so desperately — why, then, would they trade the right to evenly contest it for all the tomatoes in Akomadan, when playing soft would only have set their football’s recovery back a few more years?

Not that the Stars had to do little to wrestle the prize on offer from Egypt, anyway — and certainly not that they lacked motivation themselves either.

Ghana, lest we forget rather hurriedly [after all the ensuing horrors at the World Cup itself], put on quite a vintage show on the day. The team clicked like it hadn’t in a long while, with Egypt being caught badly at the centre of the whirlwind produced by the convergence of the Stars’ ageing and blossoming generations. It probably was the last truly, wholly great Ghana performance many can recall, coming against a team which had gatecrashed our host-and-win agenda for the 2008 Afcon, and which also pipped us in the final of the same competition just two years later. Armed with all those reasons, it wasn’t very surprising that Ghana came at Egypt so hard that the visitors never knew what had hit them.

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The scoreline was admittedly awkward — really, c’mon, who beats the record African champions by a margin so wide? — and still rings absurd to even the most devout Ghanaian football fan, but stranger things have happened in football. Indeed, the very next year saw Joachim Low’s Germany outclass World Cup hosts Brazil by an even wider goal difference en route to the global crown, remember?

Put simply, even to many a trained eye, there appeared nothing faked about Ghana beating Egypt so convincingly over two legs — the intensity of the reverse in Cairo (at least on disadvantaged Egypt’s part) spoke for itself, of course — and, hopefully, there wasn’t anything faked about any other game Kwesi Appiah’s charges contested in sealing a second consecutive outing on the world stage. Arguing otherwise without legitimate evidence would simply be a futile attempt to defy reason.

 

 

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