It is always said, third place is better than fourth and indeed the Ghanaians will justify that after the Black Stars came from behind to beat the Ivory Coast 4-2 in a thriller on Saturday in Kumasi.
Some may call it just a consolation prize but make no mistake to how important Saturday’s success meant to the 22 millions football-crazy Ghanaians.
Everyone in the streets of Accra and other parts of the country was as ecstatic after their team rallied from a 2-1 down to overcome a reshuffled Elephants of Ivory Coast.
Sulley Muntari, a player who has impressed me throughout the tournament, gave the hosts a 10 minute lead with a well-struck free-kick from about 25-yards but Boubacar Sanogo notched a quick brace for the Ivorians to silence a packed Babayale stadium.
However, Spain based Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, a former Arsenal man put Ghana on level terms after the break before Junior Agogo and Hamanu Draman struck one apiece in a space of five minutes (80 and 85 minutes) respectively to give their country what they deserved.
Both teams started the game sluggishly and it looked much of an exhibition tie than a third place play-off for a major tournament.
However, Muntari’s goals seemed to awaken both sets of players, that’s when the Ivorians started to play with a purpose and it wasn’t a surprise that they got their reward even though they needed some bit of sluggish defending by the home team.
At the start of the tournament, according to some people I managed to talk to here in Ghana had hoped these two giants would actually contest the final.
But football being what it is that hope never materialized but a third place play-off wasn’t far from what one would describe as a thriller and the Ghanaian people will live to talk about it for years to come.
First, the second display especially by the hosts left their supporters wondering why their team didn’t reach the final; secondly the game set a new record number of goals scored in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations.
In Egypt, 93 goals were scored in their entire tournament yet in Ghana 99 were scored even before the final game, six of them coming one game being scored in the second last game.
After the game, the Black Stars coach Claude Leroy hailed his players and also thanked his bosses at the Ghana Football Association for their support. “Today I have to say a big thank you to my team and to the Ghana Football Association for all their support,” said the Frenchman.
Very few outside Ghana gave the Black Stars the chance to go as far as they went but a third place, moreover against a team many had predicted would not only contest the final but win the tournament.
Despite taking the third place, Ghana would have to wait another two years for a chance to win a fifth African title but for the local fans on the streets of Accra, the Black Stars have just done their country more good than an outside can imagine—that is the way they have welcomed the third place success.
Yet for the Ivory Coast, another chance to win a second African crown has just gone begging and they may not have another chance like they had coming to the 26th Africa Cup of Nations.