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February 6, 2015 3:11 pm

Top Israeli Soccer Coach Avram Grant Leads Ghana Into African Cup of Nations Final

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avatar by Ben Cohen

A delighted Avram Grant following Ghana's 3-0 drubbing of Equatorial Guinea. Photo: Twitter

Leading Israeli soccer coach Avram Grant is celebrating his 60th birthday today with added cheer, after having guided Ghana’s national team into an enticing African Cup of Nations final against the Ivory Coast this Sunday.

Grant’s “Black Stars” defeated competition hosts Equatorial Guinea 3-0 in yesterday’s semi-final. Crowd violence led to the match being suspended for half an hour, as irate spectators pelted the playing field with missiles. At the end of the game, Grant demonstratively embraced his counterpart, Esteban Becker, as players from both teams shook hands.

The Israeli, who took the Ghana job last November, is now aiming to lead the West African nation to its first major trophy in 33 years.

“This time around my boss Avram Grant has brought a different dimension and we believe that we will rewrite the script this time around,” assistant coach Maxwell Konadu told journalists after last night’s victory.

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The fact that Grant has never coached an African team before clearly hasn’t phased him. “I think it is a very exciting and challenging job because there is a big potential in this country and this country loves football very much,” he told a Ghanian soccer journal in an interview last year. “So when people come to me and say, ‘are you ready to coach Ghana,’ I say yes because I love challenges – especially a challenge like this.”

Among soccer fans in Europe and Israel, Grant is a household name. In a career stretching back to the early 1970s, Grant has won trophies with teams including Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa in Israel, and Partizan Belgrade in Serbia. He also managed the Israeli national team for four years.

In England, however, Grant is regarded as an also-ran, having narrowly missed opportunities to win major trophies with leading Premier League side Chelsea. In 2008, rivals Manchester United beat the London club to both the Premier League title and victory in the Champions League Final.

Grant’s stay at Chelsea was marred by instances of antisemitic abuse from the club’s own supporters. The club was also forced to open an investigation after fans chanted antisemitic slogans against Grant as Chelsea lost the 2008 League Cup Final in a match against Tottenham Hotspur.

Now, though, Grant is poised to become a national hero in Ghana. “Clearly the coach has won the players hearts and they are playing for him,” declared an article on GhanaWeb, expressing hope that this Sunday’s game will end Ghana’s decades-long trophy drought.

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