Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Black Stars-Green Eagles Clash: Will It Heal The Wound?

Ebo Quansah

The cat and mouse game which has characterised football relationship between Ghana and Nigeria for the first half of the year, gives way to a more positive confrontation on Saturday, October 15, when the Black Stars, undoubtedly the most glamorous side in African soccer, perform as guests of the Green Eagles of Nigeria, in Lagos.

It took the glamour of a promised trip to Los Angeles on the wings of the Olympic Games, to end the game of hide and seek that has left the West African Football Union perplexed about what line of action to take to compel these giants of West African soccer to meet in the soccer arena.

It was very early in the year, in January to be precise, when the newly formed WAFU drew a fixture that called for a Ghana-Nigeria confrontation, as a prelude to the determination of the absolute monarchs of West African soccer.

The Ghana Football Association, then directed by Mr. Zac Bentum, Managing Director of BP (Ghana) Limited, rushed the Black Stars to camp in preparation for the two leg matches, the first of which was fixed. for Accra.

While the Black Stars were easing muscles for the ordeal, the Nigerian Government ordered what it described as illegal aliens to leave the country. Over 1.2 million Ghanaians were involved. How the expulsion was carried out now belongs to history.

But suffice it to say, that the exercise affected the WAFU championship to the extent that up till the time of writing, almost nine months after the fixtures were drawn, the two nations have avoided each other like a plague.

At first, it was the GFA that raised eye-brows over the match. Placed in an awkward situation the GFA sought government approval and was alleged to have been told by the Provisional National Defence Council not to honour the engagement on the pretext that the government could not guarantee the safety of the Black Stars in the return match in Lagos.

Meanwhile, there was no word from Nigeria until the dust settled on the expulsion order.

When all seemed set for the first leg match in Accra, the Nigerian Football Association wrote to the Ghanaian football authorities demanding a written guarantee that players, officials and supporters of the Green Eagles would be assured of a safe stay in Ghana.

The GFA treated the letter with contempt and Nigeria failed to assemble in Accra on two occasions.

Ghana demanded to be given the victory baton to advance to the next stage explaining that everything by way of hosting was laid for the Green Eagles and since the Eagles failed to fly to Accra, the Black Stars ought to be declared winners.

WAFU refused to buy the idea and consequently arranged a meeting in Lome aimed at resolving the impasse. Nigeria, slighted the West African football controllers by refusing to attend the meeting on two occasions.

The GFA was represented at all the two meetings by its vice-chairman Dr. K.O. Quansah.

At these meetings, the WAFU impressed upon Ghana to agree to play the Nigerians on another date because the essence of the competition was not so much the winning, explaining that the competition aims at fostering true friendship and fraternity among ECOWAS countries.

Consequently, the WAFU refixed the first leg in Accra for July 17, with the second encounter scheduled for Lagos on July 31 and undertook to communicate the decision to Lagos.

Back home in Accra, the GFA rejected the settlement deal and accused the WAFU of favouring oil rich Nigeria which, according to informed sources, foot most of the bills of the union.

As a sign of disillusionment, the GFA failed to prepare for the games on the pretext that the July 17 engagement coincided with WAFU's own club championship in which two Ghanaian clubs - defending champions Sekondi Hasaacas and Accra Great Olympics were performing at home.

As a compromise, the WAFU undertook to postpone the club engagements but Ghana went ahead with the clubs programme without provision for the match with Nigeria. In any case Nigeria also failed to turn-up.

Up till the time of writing this article, the impasse had not been resolved. The only consolation is that next Saturday's Olympic Games engagement may create the right atmosphere for the two nations to iron out their differences.

Superficially, at least, the factors recounted above constituted the main obstacle in the way of the two-leg tournament.

Behind the curtain, however, there are more pressing reasons leading to the stalemate. On the side of Ghana, the main reason is that the soccer controlling body believe WAFU was giving Nigeria preferential treatment by insisting on a new date when Lagos had openly slighted the Abidjan-based West African soccer controllers.

It is the opinion of keymen at the GFA Secretariat that Nigeria's financial contribution is what is swaying the WAFU into giving the Green Eagles a treatment they do not deserve.

The Ghanaians are of the view that as champions of the West and indeed the whole of Africa, the Black Stars ought to have been the group to receive favours, if any, and hence their uncompromising attitude.

In Nigeria, the motives are entirely different. In almost all disciplines of sports, Nigeria has overpowered Ghana except football, the most glamorous sporting event in the world.

Match after match, the Black Stars of Ghana had trampled on the Eagles with impunity and this has been a source of worry to almost every Nigerian. After the Green Eagles' dismal performance in the 13th African Cup of Nations tournament in Libya, last year, the Green Eagles were dissolved.

The team was re-organised in January this year with the hope that the new group would overcome the 'spell' Ghana soccer had cast over Nigeria.

After 90 minutes of hot exchanges, the Nigerian national team failed to beat the Ghanaian club side whose leading players were prevented from accompanying the team because of Black Stars camping.

Nigerian fans were naturally displeased with the performance of the Eagles in its reformative period. The murmurs became open agitation for change of direction when a second rate Black Stars, (without players of Kotoko then honouring African clubs championship match at home) beat the Green Eagles to lift the giant Economic Commission of Africa, (ECA) championship in Addis Ababa, last May.

After the Addis Ababa disaster, Nigerian football authorities mapped out an unwritten strategy aimed at avoiding the Black Stars as much as possible until the players gained much confidence.

While Nigerians were brooding over how to deal with the situation, top Ghanaian footballers playing professionally in foreign countries were back on holidays.

By WAFU statutes, they qualify to participate in the West African Championship. Indications were that Ghana would marshall all forces including calling these players on duty in any match with Nigeria.

Nigeria replied with a simple strategy. And that was to delay the WAFU engagement until the Ghanaian professional players returned to their bases, while giving members of the Green Eagles enough time to gain confidence.

That confidence is over-flowing following the Eagles brilliant victories over Togo and Morocco in Olympic and African Cup of Nations preliminaries.

Next Saturday's Olympic Games preliminary, strategically, is good for Nigeria. Since it is Olympic Games engagement in which professionals are barred, Nigerian authorities believe the Eagles will face the Black Stars squarely and open the way for the rescheduling of the often postponed WAFU engagement which is likely to be honoured when Ghanaian professionals are off the West African scene.

Whatever be the case, the October 15 encounter in Lagos opens a new chapter in Ghana-Nigeria soccer rivalry. It is the outcome of the match that will either heal the Nigerian soccer wound or deepeen the scar.

talking drums 1983-10-10 we have passed the test - Shagari