On Saturday, Ghana will be celebrating its 64th Independence Day and miles away in Nouakchott, Mauritania, their Under-20 football team will be facing Uganda in the final of the Total Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
As they seek their fourth continental title, the Black Satellites want to make that a birthday gift to the people of Ghana on this special day, and it is that drive and sense of patriotism that they look on to power their wings to fly over the East Africans at the Olympic Stadium.
When the national anthem ‘God bless our homeland Ghana’ belts out at the Stadium, they will hope to lease on the bounce off the rhythm and tempo and the words from the lyrics to thrust them into a performance of their lives against Uganda’s Baby Hippos.
“I want to win this tournament and then present this trophy to Ghana’s number one citizen, President Nana Akuffo-Addo as a gift to celebrate our Independence Day. This will be our gift to Ghanaians,” Ghana’s coach Abdul Karim Zito has stated.
🇬🇭 @ghanafaofficial is one trophy away from having the same number of #TotalAFCONU20 trophies as Egypt 🇪🇬🏆 pic.twitter.com/EdXDlIdpdZ
— #TotalAFCONU20 (@CAF_Online) March 4, 2021
Ghana have made it to their second final since winning the title in 2009 and coach Zito hopes this will not end in tears as they look to clinch the crown and bring back the love to Ghana after a few years of faded smiles.
“I am really happy with how we have managed to play this tournament and the mentality of the players has been improving game by game. We did not have very good preparations coming in here because of the COVID situation and no football being played back at home,”
“Most people didn’t have the faith that we can do it but we have come here and worked hard to be at the final,” stated the coach.
Zito, himself a winner of the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations with the Black Stars and the Total CAF Champions League (Then Africa Cup of Champions Clubs) with Asante Kotoko in 1983 is a revered coach in Ghana and winning the title would cement his stature among the greatest youth coaches in the country.
“If I look at the boys I believe they can do it. They are full of talent and the way they play shows you they are hungry for something. When we left, I told the president (Kurt Okraku) that I will bring him the trophy. We will do that,” Zito affirms.
He started coaching in 1988 while still a player with Kotoko under Ibrahim Sunday and has steadily grown in stature to coach the club he played for among many others all over Ghana.
The tactician prides himself in seeing several players emerge from his hands, among them the likes of Kwadwo Asamoah, Harrison Afful, Richard Ofori, Kasim Adams Nuhu among many others and he hopes his class of 2021 will also spring forth success stories.
“I am a certified youth developer and my joy is when I look at the Black Stars lining up and I see several of my players in there. For me, youth coaching is about passion; it is never about the money. I do this because I love developing young players and see them succeed,” Zito noted.
Zito has had to go through a lot of difficult moments in his life and one that changed his mindset and mental strength forever was a near death experience in 2015 when his hand was almost chopped off by highway robbers.
The tactician suffered deep cuts after confronting robbers who had snatched a phone from his car and they ended up driving a knife on his back and chopping his hand with a machete, leaving it hanging by the skin.
“I was taken to the hospital by some boys at the road and I could hear them say ‘coach is not dead’ when we reached the hospital because I was falling in and out of consciousness due to the loss of blood. The doctors also thought I would die but God gave me a second chance in life,” explains the coach, showing the scars from that incident 16 years ago.
“It instilled a lot of mental strength in me. I forgave whoever attacked me and I refused to go and testify in court. But knowing that experience almost caught my life has always driven me to do my best,” the coach notes.
Zito hopes that his life story will have another beautiful and heroic page against Uganda, though he knows it is not going to be an easy outing.
“No team that comes to this tournament is a bad team. I have watched Uganda play and they are one of the best in the tournament. It will be very tough because they play with a lot of maturity and also make football look beautiful. My boys are ready to battle them,” he added.