It was as though Armageddon was here. The airwaves in Ghana and in Zambia bled. Propagandists mostly from the Southern African country had taken over in a rallying cry for war, for three points. There were accusations and denials some of which were sent to Zurich the head quarters of FIFA. The psychological warfare was in full glare. It was war; a return battle to Brasilia which had to be fought in Kumasi, Ghana.
That was the scenario which characterized the final Group D World Cup qualifier between Ghana and Zambia played in Kumasi on Friday. It was a continuation of what is easily becoming a West-South African football rivalry.
For many years Ghana had been spared this bitter rivalry interspersed with a seemingly provocative, well planned, perfectly executed communist inferior tactics in international football all in a bid to win points. If there was any such rivalry and tactic at all, Ghana’s opponents were magnanimous enough to limit such tactics when they play as host.
Indeed the famous Algeria debacle in which Ghana had to play in a soggy pitch ahead of the 1998 World Cup was one such example. There are many others in the love-hate relationship between Ghana and Nigeria.
But none, as far as I am concerned compared to the psychological warfare waged by Zambia in a bid to pick the sole Group D slot for Brazil 2014.
It began with an alleged attack on two of Ghana’s players who suffered double agony in Zambia in the first leg of the World Cup qualifier. They were beaten on the field and out of it.
And when the returned leg beckoned, the stakes were even higher and for the Zambians the three points looked more like a pack of eggs – none had to be dropped. The mind games were to continue unabated with a distress call to FIFA alerting the football governing about plans to incite Ghana fans to attack the Zambian team when they come to Ghana. That call was made a passionate to FIFA to punish Derek Boateng who they accused of championing the incitement.
That was weeks away. Then the propagandists were let loose. Claude leRoy a onetime Ghana coach but an all time confidante of Harve Renard coach of the Zambia made what appeared on the surface as an innocuous prediction in favour of Zambia but had a shattering effect of breaking down the psyche of the Ghana team.
Then came another Zambian official pontificating about how the Zambian threat had provoked Ghana to reunite with all its players and how this reunification was rather going to inure to the benefit of the Zambians. If it was to your benefit, why bother?
Those were the preliminary tactics. With five days to go for the epic encounter, the Zambians came up with a rather weird travel arrangement- they wanted a straight flight from Lusaka to Kumasi and not even the professional aviation advice from the Ghanaian authority will stop them.
They went back to Zurich crying and accusing Ghana of trying to frustrate them. Ghana decided to respond, reciting its own book of aviation and quoted the portion on abhorrence of international flight to local airports in its defence.
It was two days to go for the game. The Zambians were still in Lusaka hatching other plans. Emissaries had already been sent to Kumasi. There were reports from inside sources that the Zambians were coming with an 80 man delegation, 25 of whom were witch doctors. A day to go for the game the Zambians arrived in Ghana and followed the wise aviation counsel from their host. They arrived in Kumasi around 2:00 pm and were scheduled to train at 4:00 pm. They arrived at 6:00pm when the gate to the main pitch had been locked; when the flood lights had been turned off. They wanted access.
The host will grant no such access. As if possessed by a Zambian deity, Renard instructed his men to alight from the bus and train on gravel-laden pitch just in front of the stadium. Up and down they went, jogging, stretching and singing.
The partisan Ghana crowd was hostile, chanting no training no training!
Armed police and military men were in their no nonsense mood, thrashing, screaming, warding off hostile supporters and protecting lawless, argent provocateurs in jerseys scheming to pick up three crucial points away from home.
God intervened with a heavy downpour. The visitors can no longer train on the gravels; the security men can no longer howl, huff and puff; the hostile supporters can only run for shelter. What a night it was and the day after it was battle day. A thriller in Kumasi!
There were showers of rain early that morning with God reminding the combatants that He was still in control. But the fanatic Kumasi fans defied the showers and went queuing for match tickets. Others were selling at outrageous prices. It was hours to the game.
Soon the stadium was full; every seat covered with someone standing. The stadium was awash with bright colours of red, gold for Ghana and patches of green representing the Zambians. The Black Stars arrived and so too did the Zambians.
The controversial Zambian flight had landed in Ghana; the talk shop had been settled; the botched training drama had been forgotten. It was now time for the real deal. Given the tales of controversies the match was expected to be do or die, but no.
The Zambians were desperate for the points but the warlike attitude they approached the game outside the field was not to be seen on the pitch. The players walked gently on the field caressing the grass with their feet and acting like coy girls itching to be proposed to. They went back into the tunnel and back again onto the pitch for hostilities to begin.
I must confess the game was one of the decent games I have watched between two African countries.
There were yellow cards some of which I thought were unnecessary. The two teams did business in an amazing spirit of fair play, respect, love and professionalism.
Even though Ghana won, Zambia earned my respect in a way I never thought they would, given the trajectory of events.
The 25 or so witch doctors who were alleged to be part of the Zambian delegation were rather hot sexy girls with dimples who despite the Zambian defeat came to the pitch cuddling players of both teams and traded warm and infectious smiles.
It was a photo opportunity for all. Hugs were traded; smiles were shared; contacts were made all on the battle ground.
Ghana won but African football won too, only if the Zambians did not break any of the FIFA rules in their desperation to win the game.