What would have happened if Michael Essien had been fit enough to travel to the tournament? Might Kevin Prince Boateng’s presence have been the difference between another near miss and final glory? Would the story have ended differently had Agyemang Badu not failed a late fitness test? And what if skipper John Mensah had not been forced off injured moments before the Zambian goal?
Plus, of course, the most intriguing question of all: would the Black Stars have beaten the Chipolopolo had Asamoah Gyan’s early penalty not been saved by the outstanding Kennedy Mweene in a rain-soaked Bata on Wednesday?
We will never know any of the answers, and frankly there isn’t much point stewing for long. Zambia’s victory – acquired thanks to Emmanuel Mayuka’s brilliant curling shot from the edge of the box on 78 minutes – was basically deserved. Although Gyan missed a generously-awarded penalty, and was denied by Mweene on two further occasions, Ghana were largely frustrated by a Zambian side whose potency in attack always appeared likely to do some damage.
Instead Ghana must take the positives from this tournament and come back stronger in South Africa next year. The national team seems to be at a crossroads, with some of their most loyal and effective servants struggling for form and fitness, while an exciting young generation is just beginning to blossom.
Essien and Boateng were missing, and Gyan, Mensah and Sulley Muntari all performed below their best, yet several youngsters stepped up to the plate impressively, showing that the future remains bright for the West Africans.
Andre Ayew has long been considered a future talisman for Ghana, and the Marseille forward’s dynamic and hard-working displays only added credence to that theory. But Ayew’s continued development is not the sole reason to feel optimistic.
At 24, John Boye looked ready to assume the mantle of defensive linchpin here. Strong in the air, aggressive in the challenge and quick across the ground, the Rennes centre-back was a reliable presence throughout the competition. In midfield, Badu snapped in to challenges and drove the team forward with energy and power – as well as scoring a volley against Guinea that will surely finish as goal of the tournament. The Udinese man was badly missed against Zambia.
Anthony Annan, Kwadwo Asamoah and Samuel Inkoom have been around for some time, but they still have youth on their side and will only get better. Add in the promise displayed by Alhassan Masahudu and Jordan Ayew, and there is every reason to believe that Ghana’s CAN drought – it is 30 years and counting since they won the fourth of their titles – will soon end.
It may be hard for Ghanaians to feel cheerful at this moment, but happier times are probably not too far away.