Black Stars shine as Bradley fights for job

Posted by Firdose Moonda

It was supposed to be too close to call but Ghana tore up, shredded and binned that prediction with a thumping win over Egypt -- their biggest in the two teams' history -- to ensure they have one foot on the plane to Brazil. The Black Stars' 6-1 triumph in Kumasi, headlined by two goals from Asamoah Gyan, is likely to keep the Pharaohs out of the World Cup yet again, stretching their absence from FIFA's showpiece event to 24 years.

Ghana's big win underlines their status as Africa's best prospect for Brazil. The team have evolved since their last appearance in 2010 and perhaps the most impressive development is the pairing of Gyan with Spartak Moscow-based Abdul Majeed Waris. The 22-year-old has earned seven caps since February last year and Gyan has praised his partner for being his creative right-hand man.

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The other man to emerge from the victory with an enhanced reputation is Ghana's coach Kwesi Appiah. The soft-spoken manager has shown the wisdom of keeping the faith in a local man who has experience within the structures of his homeland. Appiah was in charge of Asante Kotoko when they played in the final of the African club championship in 1982 -- they lost to Al-Ahly, who had eight Egyptian players in the national team for Tuesday's match -- and led them to three trophies in the 1995-96 season. He then spent time in the UK, where he received training from Manchester City.

He took the Under-23 side to victory in the All-Africa Games two years ago but when he was appointed national coach, a popular sentiment was that Ghana should have gone with a foreign man. Appiah, despite his credentials, was considered out of his depth by some.

He responded in the mild-mannered way he has become known for and said and did nothing at the time, besides disabling his Facebook account so that he did not have to receive unsolicited messages. His early results would have probably led to a few of those. Ghana lost to Zambia in World Cup qualifying, drew against China and even lost to Liberia.

Despite being among the favourites to win the African Nations Cup in January, they were booted out by eventual finalists Burkina Faso in a penalty shootout. All the while, Appiah indicated he was building the foundations of the team for the future, and if the performance on Tuesday night is anything to go by, the house is standing firm. Appiah is not looking too far ahead and said he anticipates an Egypt comeback, but to the rest of the world it appears unlikely.

This result would have thrown what has been seen as a stabilising period for the Egyptian game completely off kilter. After dominating the group stage campaign and emerging from it unbeaten, Egypt appeared on an upward curve, despite the political upheaval that has led to disruptions of the league in their home country.

A documentary film crew following the team while shooting a movie titled "We Must Go" tweeted that Egypt were "relaxed and focused" ahead of the clash. If they were, it did not show on the field. Egypt appeared out of sorts and were particularly disorganised in defence.

They appeared stunned when they went 3-1 down and could not fight their way back. The staggering margin of defeat has inevitably led to questions about what will happen to the American coach, Bob Bradley. There was some talk in the immediate aftermath that he had been asked not to take charge for the return fixture and would have to part ways immediately.

Bradley denied that, saying he remained the coach of Egypt and he wanted to continue in the job. "At the moment I'm still the coach," Bradley told ESPN FC. "If it's up to me I will stand with the team for the second leg. Obviously that's not my call."

His sadness at having failed in his mission was evident as he admitted the goal was unattainable. He also seemed genuinely concerned about the effect that would have on a unit that has managed to use the World Cup as inspiration to keep going when times were tough. "The dream of going to the World Cup is what kept our team united, but we've seen that become nearly impossible," Bradley said.

In a volatile space like Egypt where football stands for much more than just a game, the impact of this defeat is yet to be seen. For now, it’s simply a demoraliser that the people at Copper Pot Pictures, who are shooting the movie, hoped would not turn into a lasting gloom.

Their parting words from Kumasi asked Egyptians to keep believing. "The Pharaohs squad is full of great men. They are an inspirational bunch. That's all for now," they said. Indeed it is.

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