AFCON 2023: Ghana can’t afford to keep on letting Mohammed Kudus down


Underwhelming Ghana can’t afford to keep on letting Mohammed Kudus down

Mohamed Kudus celebrates scoring his team's second goal against Egypt
Mohamed Kudus celebrates scoring his team's second goal against EgyptAFP
Egypt vs Ghana would pass for a contender for the game of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) so far, though the tournament is just a few days old. The game branded as the final before the final had everything: goals, drama, suspense, etc. However, the loudest cheer of the night was for Mohammed Kudus (23) and it wasn’t even for any of his two goals.

Before kick-off, the players were engaging in the customary warm-ups. Luckily for Ghana, they warmed up in front of their supporter’s union and received a raucous reception when they stepped onto the Stade Felix-Houphouet-Boigny pitch.

With a few minutes to the end of the warm-up, the stadium announcer went through the Ghana lineup. Before she could even say “number 20 Mohammed Kudus”, the stadium had erupted because of the picture of Kudus on the screen. A wall of Ghanaian fans cheered in rhythm coupled with loud drum and trumpet sounds as they drowned the stadium announcer's voice.

Kudus had already played 30 games for Ghana but this one felt special. He had just returned from a slight hamstring injury in a game where the Black Stars couldn’t afford to lose against an opponent that was the most successful on the continent.

Egypt, similar to Ghana, failed to win their first group game and needed a favourable result to keep their hopes up. The stakes were very high in a must-win game for both countries.

In Ghana’s time of need, Kudus answered by scoring a belter from outside the box to give the four-time AFCON champions the lead. Egypt responded in the second half after a faulty back pass from Inaki Williams put Omar Marmoush through on the Ghana goal.

Seconds later Kudus rose to the occasion once again placing the ball beyond Mohamed El Shenawy to give Ghana a 2-1 lead. When the West Ham forward was walking back after the goal, he had his two fingers on the side of his head suggesting the team needed to concentrate. However, the advice fell on deaf ears as Egypt equalised seconds later this time Osman Bukari was the culprit giving the ball away in his penalty box.

Immediately after Egypt’s second goal was the cooling break. As Ghana’s squad gathered in a huddle, Kudus looked dejected and couldn’t stand still. He stepped out of the group and picked up water as he cut a frustrated figure.

Despite efforts in the last few minutes to get the winner, Ghana had to settle for a 2-2 draw leaving a dent in their qualification hopes. At full-time, Kudus bent down looking at the ground probably wondering how it all went wrong.

His walk off the pitch was interrupted by a CAF official who handed him the man of the match award. There were no smiles from him despite his achievement. For a second successive game, a Ghanaian player had won man of the match after the team failed to win.

Kudus had to speak at the post-match presser and his first words were: “It’s a mixed feeling because as an attacking player, you want your goals to reflect on the result but we got a point today.

"I felt we deserve more because the goals they scored were from some silly mistakes from us which we need to learn from.”

Mohamed Kudus reacts after the draw with Egypt
Mohamed Kudus reacts after the draw with EgyptAFP

Clearly, he was frustrated with the result. His biggest dream has always been to win a trophy with the national team and that looked to be slipping out of his hand. It was similar in the World Cup which saw the forward put in a good shift but to no avail as Ghana was knocked out of the group stages.

Against Portugal, it was his deflected cross that led to Ghana’s equaliser, albeit Portugal scored two late goals to put the game beyond the Black Stars. In the second group game, Kudus’ brace helped Ghana navigate away from a South Korea surge to win 3-2. In the final group game, Kudus won a penalty for the Black Stars in the early minutes but unfortunately, it wasn’t converted as Ghana surrendered to a 2-0 defeat and said goodbye to the tournament.

His absence in the 2021 edition was massively felt as the Ghana Football Association did everything possible to have the former Nordsjaelland man play in the tournament. On paper, the performance in Cameroon was the country’s worst in history. However, Kudus is certain they won’t make the mistakes of two years ago.

“It is very possible (to qualify from the group). Until we finish the last game in the group, it’s the same focus. You could see the fighting spirit and the energy from the guys today.

"We have to do more than that in the last game because we have to get the three points at all costs and we will see what happens after.

“Like we finished today, the next focus is to get the three points in the next game and the next game. That is the focus every single game until we bring the trophy home,” he added.

On Saturday, four players who had won the AFCON with Ghana in the '60s, '70s and '80s visited the training camp of the Black Stars in Ivory Coast. Rev. Osei Kofi, Kofi Pare, James Kuuku Dadzie, and Willie Klutse motivated the players ahead of the final group game against Mozambique.

It’s been 42 years since Ghana last won an AFCON and Kudus is looking to help the country break the drought.

“The ultimate goal for all of us is to lift the trophy but the sub goal is to get out of the group so the focus is on one game at a time.

"Like I said the ultimate goal is to win the trophy that is the aim we came here with but we can’t look far ahead of us so we just need to take it one game at a time.”

Earlier, the only question on the minds of Egyptian journalists was if Kudus was fit enough to play. A number of them were worried to see the West Ham player start the game and rightly so. He can influence games and create something out of nothing.

He is without doubt Ghana’s next big global star and he’ll need a good supporting cast to reach his full potential with the Black Stars. Asamoah Gyan time and time again, scored very important goals for Ghana but no matter how close he got, couldn’t win a trophy with the national team. 

Quite often the talent of the key man is never enough in the context of the national team. Take a look at the career of Lionel Messi, who at his peak, couldn’t win anything with Argentina. But once the supporting cast grew stronger and showed more fight, they complemented Messi’s talent and won every trophy possible.

This is why no matter how good Kudus is going to become, he will need a good system outlaid by the coach and players who are ready to give their all for the country. It’ll be disheartening to see another talent like Kudus go through the years with Ghana and not win an international trophy. Ghana can’t afford to fail him.

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