At around 19:00 on Thursday 7 February, the sun began to set, both on the Ohene Djan stadium in Accra and also on Ghana's title aspirations. Cameroon had just launched a blistering counter-attack which Alain Nkong concluded by scoring the only goal of the game. The entire country had been convinced that their team would win the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2008, and now their hopes had been dashed.
"I've never been so disappointed in my whole career. I'd like to congratulate Cameroon but also thank all of my players," said the host nation's French-born coach Claude Le Roy. "There are no excuses. I'm sad for the entire country, I share their pain. We had what it takes to be African champions, but we didn't make it and that's that."
Nevertheless, Ghana are not likely to forget the wonderful two weeks that preceded the semi-final - and the subsequent disappointment. The Black Stars were a class above the rest in Group A and conceded a mere two goals in their first four matches, scoring seven in the process. They secured their quarter-final place ahead of Guinea and Morocco before putting in a fine performance in the west African derby, beating Nigeria 2-1. They were certainly living up to their billing as one of the tournament's favourites, boasting a squad with the likes of Richard Kingson, John Mensah, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Asamoah Gyan.
Moreover, Le Roy seemed to get the best out of his lesser known players at this year's Africa Cup of Nations. Defender Hans Sarpei, midfielders Anthony Annan, Laryea Kingston and Haminu Dramani, and strikers Junior Agogo and Quincy Owusu Abeyie showed the strength in depth of the coach's squad.
"Ghana were really unlucky in the semi-final," said
Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya in an exclusive interview with
FIFA.com. "They could have beaten anyone,
maybe even Egypt. Since their excellent showing at Germany 2006
[where they made the Round of 16], the squad has improved
continuously. There's no doubt that they'll be there again
After the semi-final disappointment, the Ghanaians dug deep to offer their home fans in Kumasi a parting shot to remember. In the third place match, the hosts found themselves 2-1 down to Côte d'Ivoire, before turning the match on its head in the space of 20 minutes to win 4-2.
Thanks to a highly successful tournament, therefore, Ghana have
climbed a spectacular 29 places on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World
Ranking. The Black Stars are now 14th in the table, one spot ahead
of their previous best in April 1996. More good news should be on
the way, with Le Roy likely to have his contract extended. "It
would be a great honour for me," the Frenchman said. "I
would be very proud to stay on."
All the pieces seem to be slotting into place for Ghana to reach for the stars.