With broad smiles and a sigh of relief, Black Satellites players followed their captain, Daniel Afriyie Barnie as he marked his second goal of the evening against the Hippos of Uganda.
His march-pass mimic in celebration symbolized Ghana’s 64th Independence Day Anniversary, which incidentally fell on the same day. The mission to make history on a landmark day in the nation’s history was flawlessly executed so well that with 39 minutes left to play the Satellites were up 2-0 and it was difficult to negotiate a way
back for the Ugandans, who until that point had a storied competition in Mauritania.
But here they were hapless, as it all crumbled. Eventually Ghana clinched its fourth golden fleece. Back in Ghana, at the studios of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), ex-national stars, Charles Taylor and Laryea Kingson oozing with joy lauded the team repeatedly.
Decades ago when they were both beginning their careers, they had chalked similar successes. Kingson scored the winning goal that won Ghana its second trophy of the competition when it hosted in 1999.
Taylor was a silver medalist two years later in Ethiopia. Their reaction was emblematic of the magnitude of the Satellites victory and the endophilic emotions that gushed through the bloodstream of a football-crazed
populace that moment. Soon after, torrents of congratulatory messages heralding the success poured in through various media platforms from citizens and public figures – a trend accustomed with such achievements.
The road to this success was not a smooth course, the Satellites had a chequered campaign but peaked at the right time much to the disappointment of the East Africans. Despite the momentary cheers, football fans were less enthused by the overall performance of the team. Doubts lingered about the quality of these youngsters to don the Black Stars colours as the future loomed.
This elicited key fundamental questions: must wins always be in tandem with dominant performance? Have we already decided that this team is not good enough for the Stars at their tender ages and success chalked? where does the distrust emanate from and are they justified? Undoubtedly, this overshadowed a rare trait exhibited by the team,
This trait often overlooked for majestic displays proved the triumph card. In an era where talents are evenly spread across the continent, ambitious teams understand that beyond talent other winning values must be prioritized. Accepting that a win whether it came pretty or ugly was the desired outcome. Throughout their journey, the
fixation on grit and growth ahead of eye-catching displays – at the displeasure of Ghanaians – proved decisive ultimately culminating in the capture of the golden fleece.
There was not much promise from the team watching them in the WAFU Zone ’B’ championship last December in Benin. Aside their boring displays, the overriding concern was the lack of creativity. They however grinded the desired results against stiff opposition from Nigeria and Niger to set up a final against Burkina Faso.
Against their northern neighbors, they exhibited a fighting spirit to emerge 2-1 winners after conceding first. Heading to Mauritania, the performance kept many skeptical that they could claim gold.
Ghana’s recent best at the competition was a third-place finish in Senegal in 2015. Remarkably, they ended up as champions after finishing third at the group stage. This success demanded overcoming hard-fought battles.
On the road, they ousted a red-hot Cameroonian side who prior had a 100% record at the group stage and proceeded to gain a sweet 1-0 revenge against Gambia who nearly cost the Satellites qualification when they beat them 2-1 in the final group game. A classy show against the Ugandans completed their journey in style.
Throughout, the team exhibited qualities that transcended individual brilliance. Their winning mentality,
fighting spirit, commitment to improvement, tactical discipline and sense of purpose set them apart. These qualities had the thumbprint of coach Abdul Karim Zito, a serial achiever, who understood what it took to raise winners having enjoyed such feats both as a player and a coach.
COACH KARIM ZITO
When Karim Zito was elevated to coach the Satellites from the U-17 Black Starlets after a reshuffle of national team technical handlers last year, many believed his promotion was enabled by his relationship with GFA president Kurt Okraku.
Until his ascension to the role Kurt was president of premier league side Dreams FC, where Zito was head coach. The expectation was that he would be fired after he failed to qualify the Starlets to the 2018 U-17 AFCON and by extension the world competition. Despite the raised eyebrows, his old boss kept faith in him.
In the same vein, Zito also stuck with the core of his Starlets side consisting captain Issahaku Fatawu, Emmanuel Essiam, Nathaniel Adjei, Alhassan Uzair and Sampson Adjapong. He added goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim, Frank Assinki, Daniel Afriyie, Percious Boah and Samuel Abbey Quaye who he deemed perfect fits for his style and mission. Zito’s vast knowledge of youth football could be traced back to when he qualified WAFA (then
Feyenoord) and Kwaebibrem to the premier league repeating similar success with Dreams FC– sides that pursued a youth development policy.
His rich background in this area honed his philosophy grounded in building values such as development, discipline, continuous improvement in spite of the pool of talent. Dead-ball situations, penalty conversions and long-range shooting – a historic deficiency of Ghanaian teams – was converted to strengths, serving as match winners on numerous occasions.
When his team came under a barrage of criticisms for their poor showing at the WAFU, Zito in a goal.com report in response gave an inkling to his approach
“This is a tournament that goes with winning and not about who plays good football …. I know as a people we are used to the fine, fine football. I’m more interested in our progress and for now I’m happy with the
results. “This mindset proved the separator as it won Ghana the competition -vindicating Zito’s posture.
Whilst the football community was fixated on talent and a dominant performance as the route to glory, Zito
knew the path to greatness transcended these factors and admirably trusted his boys to deliver. Despite Zito’s exceptional leadership, certain players distinguished themselves making the collective effort of the team worthwhile.
Steadfast FC of Tamale’s playmaker Issahaku Fatawu emerged the best player at the Championship and rightly so. His trickery, pace, efficient dribbling, creativity and work rate set him apart from the pack. His breathtaking ability to hit the target from a range led him to score two of such stupendous goals that are difficult to replicate – marking him for a bright future. His competency from dead-ball situations was also established providing an assist from a corner-kick to Daniel Afriyie’s opener in the finals. His compatriot and Ghana’s able hands, Danlad Ibrahim
deservedly won the best goalie accolade.
At just 18, he proved why he was touted one of the best young keepers in the country. Danlad’s substantial
experience having featured with the 2017 U-17, saw him exhibit unshaken confidence between the posts. His confidence bled to his defense line and saw them concede just three goals in six games.
His constant hurling of
instructions, alertness, excellent reflexes and leadership kept Ghana in crucial games against Morocco, Cameroon and in the reverse fixture against the Gambians in the semi-finals. Dreams FC marksman, Percious
Boah was also an instrumental figure. His three goals carried the team to the finals. Beyond his scoring ability, Boah was also a dead-ball specialist and an unselfish strike partner – his assist of Afriyie’s second goal in the
finals underlined this trait.
Notable performances from centre-back Frank Assinki, left-back Samuel Abbey Ashie-Quaye and combative midfielder Emmanuel Essiam offered glimmers of hope of a future Stars set-up – a dream destination of these young players. Yet the pondered question reverberating through the football fraternity remain “are these youngsters truly Black Stars material?”
This question is far-fetched. More crucially, the attention and focus should be centered on the career choices and decisions these youngsters make on the back of this success. The temptation to hop on the foreign bandwagon will abound.
Herewith, how these youngsters are guided in their choices would be defining. Spotting average ages of 18-19, If these youngsters are urged and guided to pursue development above all else, they will blossom into Black Stars standard without question.
Such decisions at this stage in the past, have made and unmade careers. One thing must not be lost. These youngsters are champions. Winning championships maximizes self-believe and confidence. In recent times, the 2009 and 2013 squads proved this as some went on to have rewarding careers and became regulars in the Black Stars set-up.
Rather unfortunately, they would miss a huge step in their growth process with the cancellation of the world cup due to coronavirus concerns. Despite this, the 2023 African Games in Ghana beckons. This team must be prepared ahead of that assignment as it would further their development.
This may not be the most talented Satellites team Ghana has produced. However, their exhibition of outstanding values of grit, purpose and resilience a trait that always make champions must inspire us all in pursuit of our goals.
BY NANA BENTSI ODURO117