AFCON 2015 Final: Andre Ayew’s Date with Destiny

An inconsolable Abedi “Pele” Ayew was helped off the pitch in Dakar, Senegal during the semi-finals of the 1992 African Cup of Nations. His spectacular back-headed goal aided the Black Stars of Ghana to victory against their bitter rivals, the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Mitiu Adepoju had put Nigeria ahead in the 11 minute. Abedi brought Ghana level before striker Prince Polley scored the winner in the second half.

Those tears had nothing to do with joy as one would expect since Ghana had sealed qualification to the final. Rather it was of sorrow and disappointment. A yellow card he picked in the game meant he will miss the final against neighbours Cote D’Ivoire in the finals.

Sadly, Ghana lost the game to Ivory Coast without their talisman (11-10 on penalties). An occurrence that a lot of Ghanaians still believe wouldn’t have happened had Abedi played.

Twenty-three years later, as fate would have it; Abedi Ayew’s son Andre will have a shot at annexing the coveted African Cup of Nations for Ghana – it’s very likely to lead the Stars on Sunday in injured skipper Asamoah Gyan’s absence. A feat the Black Stars haven’t been able to achieve since their last triumph in Tripoli thirty-five years ago.

An achievement that eluded his father during his 6-year stint as the captain of the Black Stars. And interestingly it will be against the Elephants of La Cote D’Ivoire—the country his dad missed the final against in 1992.

Obviously not as naturally talented as his legendary dad, Andre’s stoic rise to become a stalwart for the Black Stars of Ghana and his club Olympique Marseille is nothing short of spectacular.  Andre “Dede” Ayew’s game has been based on sheer hardwork and tactical discipline.

Though he played a part in a 4-nation tourney prior to the 2008 Nations Cup in Ghana, Dede’s baptism of fire came for the Black Stars when he was named in the starting line-up to replace the injured Laryea Kingston in Ghana’s semifinal clash against Cameroun at the 2008 Nations Cup. It wasn’t a memorable ‘debut’ as Ghana was beaten by the Indomitable Lions. A section of the Ghanaian fans lamented on his inexperience and called for his ‘head’.

What a difference a year makes. In September, 2009, Andre made history as the only captain of an African team to hoist the U-20 World Cup. In that final against Brazil in Cairo, Dede’s innate leadership skills shown throughout the game as he guided the Black Satellites to win on penalties albeit playing a large chunk of the game with 10 men.

He has never looked back since then. A journey that has seen him rise to become the assistant captain of the Black Stars and an integral member of French club Olympique Marseille. He won the BBC African Footballer of the Year (2011) in this period as well.

Andre Ayew has been one of the outstanding players in the 2015 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea. He has been directly involved in 5 of Ghana’s 9 goals at the tournament so far. He is the joint leading goal scorer at the tournament as well with 3 goals. He is touted as a big game player and rightly so. When the stakes are high? Trust Andre Ayew to come through with gutsy performances. It was evident Ghana missed his services in their painful loss against Uruguay in the quarterfinals at the 2010 World Cup. And as captain, he came through with a good performance against Equatorial Guinea in the semis.  Scored as well.

However, standing in Dede’s way of fulfilling his destiny, is the perennial AFCON favorites Cote D’Ivoire. The Elephants have been favorites for the AFCON title since 2006. Though they have made the finals 3 times since that span – 2006, 2012, 2015– yet have shockingly failed to add to the single title they won in 1992.

Led by Manchester City’s influential midfielder, Yaya Toure, the Cote D’Ivoire will start the finals as favourites. Having missed out on a couple of times within the last decade, they will fancy their chances this time against the Black Stars.

But with the addition of the experienced Israeli, Avram Grant as the head coach, the Black Stars have the wind in their sails. They have shown a sense of purpose in this tournament. And on the verge of elimination, they showed character to pip Algeria and came from a goal down to beat South Africa.

More importantly, this is a Black Stars team playing to win back the hearts of Ghanaians. Apathy has crept in the support of the Black Stars due to their disgraceful showing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They know they have to win this cup to bring back the fans. They also know they have to win this trophy to break what is looking like a trophy jinx.

All the players will be going in to that Sunday final in Bata against the Ivory Coast with different motivations, but for Andre “Dede” Ayew, one thing is for sure: it’s his date with destiny. To captain the Black Stars and win a trophy.

By Okpoti EvansDede Ayew_opt

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