The year was 2008 and Ghana was poised to secure their first African Cup of Nations trophy since 1982.
The senior national team, Black Stars of Ghana were making their 16th appearance in the 26th edition of Africa’s biggest showpiece.
The hype, the buzz and euphoria could be felt when someone even peeped through their window.
Ghana was ready to host and win.
The MTN Africa Cup of Nations as it was referred to due to its sponsorship is perhaps the most successfully organised as compared to the 2002 and 2006 editions.
Everything, including the match ball, was special about 2008 AFCON.
The ball called Wawa Aba or the seed of a Wawa tree, one of the strongest trees on the African continent.
The design of the ball was shaped after that Adinkra symbol which happens to be the name of the ball – Wawa Aba. Though the Adinkra symbols are common to the Akan-speaking groups of Ghana, they are very popular and recognisable all across the country.
Ghana hosted 16 nations in four different cities –Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi and Tamale.
The Black Stars of Ghana were placed in Group A together with Guinea, North African giants, Morocco and Namibia who were making their second appearance.
Ghana was considered as one of the four favourites ahead of the tournament.
The other big guns were Egypt, the defending champions from the 2006 edition;
Cameroon. who had massive experience from the previous edition and the firepower of Samuel Eto’o in their fold; Nigeria who had the pace and skill of Peter Odemwingie and John Obi Mikel; and Cote d’Ivoire, who was in the headlines due to the plethora of stars they had. Leading them was Chelsea forward, Didier Drogba
Headed by the vastly experienced Claude Le Roy, the Black Stars team was made up of Richard ‘Olele’ Kingson (Birmingham City), Sammy Adjie (FC Ashdod), and Fatau Dauda (Ashanti Gold) as the goalkeepers.
Harrison Afful (Asante Kotoko), John Mensah (Stade Rennes), John Paintsil (West Ham), Hans Adu Sarpei (Bayern Leverkusen), and Shilla Illiasu (FK Saturn) the defenders called-up.
The midfield department had the likes of Eric Addo (PSV Eindhoven), Anthony Annan (IK Start), Kwadwo Asamoah (Torino FC), Nana Asare (KV Mechelen), Ahmed Barusso (Galatasaray), Michael Essien (Chelsea), Haminu Dramani (Lokomotiv Moscow), Laryea Kingston (Hearts of Midlothian), Bernard Kumordzi (Panionios GSS) and Sulley Ali Muntari (Portsmouth FC).
The Frenchman called-up five forwards as his attacking options for the tournament – Junior Agogo (Nottingham Forest), Andre Dede Ayew (Olympique Marseille), Asamoah Gyan (Udinese Calcio), Baffour Gyan (FK Saturn) and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (Celta Vigo)
Opening day glory
On 20th January 2008, Ghana faced Guinea at the Accra Sports Stadium in the first game of the tournament but there were no goals after the first 45 minutes and it was not down to a lack of effort.
Junior Manuel Agogo, Michael Essien, and Sulley Muntari all hit the post with their attempts to leave Guinea still in the game at the end of the first half.
About 5 minutes into the second half, Agogo was fouled just in the penalty area and Asamoah Gyan calmly beat the Guinean goalkeeper with the resulting penalty finding the roof of the net.
10 minutes later, the Guineans were back in the game after Kalabane scored an equaliser to leave the home fans edgy but Muntari won the game for Ghana with a long-range shot in the 90th minute.
A perfect 3 (wins against Namibia and Morocco)
After taking care of Guinea, the Black Stars faced Namibia in their second group game but it was not the goal feast the fans expected. Ghana laboured all game and they got themselves a 1-0 win after Junior Agogo scored his first of the tournament after 41 minutes.
Then came Morocco in the third group game. After some initial Moroccan pressure, Ghana settled and went into the lead in the 26th minute with well-worked routine.
Muntari floated a free-kick into the box and Essien rushed onto the cross to finish first time into the net.
The goal sparked the kangaroo dance (pictured below) which later became a feature of the country’s general elections in December of the same year.
Scorer and provider changed roles as Sulley Muntari scored Ghana’s second from an Essien pass.
Asamoah Gyan, Essien, Junior Agogo and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie were all denied by the Moroccan goalkeeper to keep the scoreline at 2-0.
The Black Stars topped Group A and that meant they had to face West African rivals, Nigeria in the quarter-finals at the Accra Sports Stadium on February 3, 2008.
Uphill battle versus Nigeria in Accra
The Accra Sports Stadium was packed as the Black Stars of Ghana took on the Super Eagles of Nigeria in another instalment of their regional rivalry.
The Super Eagles drew first blood as Yakubu Ayegbeni converted from the spot in the 35th minute and then, proceeded to do a parody of the kangaroo dance with his teammates.
Ghana had to respond and they did through Chelsea star, Michael Essien.
He rose highest to meet Owusu-Abeyie’s cross and his header went in off the two goalposts to leave Nigerian goalie, Austin Ejide dumbfounded.
The goals may have punctuated the half in terms of tangibles but the midfield battle was the real story of the half and the toughness of the war was captured in a rather funny sequence where Ghana midfielder, Anthony Annan poked the eye of Nigeria’s John Mikel Obi on the referee’s blindside.
The Nigerians were up for the game in the second half but Ghana goalie Richard ‘Olele’ Kingson was equal to their goal-bound strikes to keep Ghana in the game. He made two notable saves on the day: one from a long-range lob from Yakubu Aiyegbeni and another from a stinging Taye Taiwo free-kick. In the 2006 edition of the tournament, Taiwo scored a fizzing free-kick to beat 1-0 but Kingson was alive to stop an encore.
A tough game was then made more complicated for Ghana as captain, John Mensah, was sent off by referee Mohammed Benouza as he brought down a Nigerian attacker when he was the last line of defence.
Rather than kill Ghana off, it drove the Black Stars on and they found the winner in the 83rd-minute courtesy Junior Manuel Agogo.
He poked home at the back post after he was found by a Sulley Muntari pass. The goal drew mad celebrations all over the country and it was perhaps, Agogo’s greatest moment in his Black Stars career.
Broken dreams and a patched Black Stars
Nigeria was now out but Cameroon stood in Ghana’s way if the tournament would be won on home soil. The Indomitable Lions had presence and experience and the needed personnel for the job and they showed these traits all through the game.
Ghana was nervous and their situation was not helped by the fact Michael Essien’s drive in the midfield was lost since he was moved into the backline to replace the suspended John Mensah.
Cameroon kept finding good attacking passes and they got rewarded as a good passing sequence, which probably could have been dealt with had Essien been in midfield, freed substitute, Alain N’kong and he perfectly finished off a Samuel Eto’o pass to end Ghana’s “host-and-win” dreams.
The loss to Cameroon meant the Black Stars had to face Ivory Coast in the 3rd/4th place game.
The Ivorians were trounced 4-1 by Egypt in the other semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations 2008.
The Black Stars played for pride and managed to walk away with the bronze medal after a thrilling 4-2 tie at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.
Sulley Muntari grabbed his 3rd goal of the competition through a powerful free-kick but Boubacar Sanogo scored twice to give the Ivorians a 2-1 lead going into the second half of the game.
Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Junior Agogo, Haminu Dramani got goals for Ghana in the second half to give the home fans something to cheer despite missing out on the ultimate.