2013 Cup of Nations Preview: Ghana

Ghana's Probable XI

Ghana's Probable XI

It’s 31 years since Ghana last won the Cup of Nations. The good news is that this Ghana team has the quality to render history to obsolescence, certainly more so than last time around. The situation in the Ghanaian defence in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea - constant rotation throughout the backline, partly on the whim of the then coach Goran Stefanovic, and partly enforced by suspensions and injuries – provided a microcosm of nearly everything that was wrong with the team. What Ghanaian football lacked was was a decisive coach. Stefanovic’s successor Akwasi Appiah has ruled with the cold-bloodedness that is needed thus far, leaving out the likes of John Mensah, whose questionable fitness due to being a free agent forced Ghana to constantly chop and change at centre-back, and the buccaneering right-back Samuel Inkoom,  who has not even been warming the bench at Dnipro. Predictably, there has been the obligatory quintessentially Ghanaian pre-tournament media frenzy after Andre Ayew was left out of the squad for not reporting to camp on time, with indications that he had no intention to anyway after his brother Jordan was left out of the provisional squad.

Ghana’s centre-back pairing will be the fearsome duo of Isaac Vorsah and John Boye; bouncers who cherish order in and around their penalty area and smash the door in the face of mischievous marksmen who attempt to dim the Black Stars. Boye was a standout performer for Ghana in the last AFCON, but his penchant for a yellow card means his transformation from boye to man is incomplete – Ghana will probably have to rotate at some point during the tournament.

The full-back positions remain Ghana’s most quarrelsome positions, but Juventus’ deployment of Kwadwo Asamoah as a left wing-back has provided Appiah with a possible solution. John Paintsil will start at right-back and Asamoah will start at left-back, although many feel his creativity is wasted out there. If one of them doesn’t start then it’ll probably be Harrison Afful, a streetwise jack-of-all-trades and master of most. Norwegian-born goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey has ceased the quarrying over the number one jersey for now but is still susceptible to nanoseconds of narcolepsy.

Akwasi: Will he Appiah back in Ghana with the trophy?

Akwasi: Will he Appiah back in Ghana with the trophy?

In defensive midfield, Ghana is the only team that has the grandeur to rival the Ivory Coast. Anthony Annan and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu’s unbreakable midfield duopoly remains intact, the former offering candour in accordance with his ability on the ball while the latter offers boisterous energy to drive from deep. Another option here is the muscle-bound panache of Derek Boateng. Stronger than ten crates of Supermalt, he is another with a penchant for a yellow card and he can be frustratingly careless with the ball.

Is Andre Ayew’s absence a blessing?

Ghana’s iconoclasts in the last few years have rightly pointed out that they don’t create enough opportunities and don’t score enough goals – put simply, boring – but the recent 3-0 and 4-2 warm-up wins over Egypt and Tunisia respectively offer a rousing antidote to that argument. The pizazz of Christian Atsu, who will probably play a free role, has gone some way to providing the panacea to that problem.  Andre Ayew’s replacement on the right is likely to be the Bristol City winger Albert Adomah, who is far from a blockbuster name but his traditional, disciplined wing-play has rented the judgement of Appiah for the time being. Espanyol’s Wakaso Mubarak will play on the left, he possesses deadly delivery from set-pieces, particularly from the right-side. With Asamoah  Gyan not taking penalties anymore after his mother told him not to on her deathbed, Mubarak will also probably be the man Ghana turn to when they need sang-froid after he scored one versus Tunisia.

Upfront, captain Gyan, who has been in devastating form for Al Ain, will once again lead the attack. However, there have been concerns over his level of fitness. Unlike the last AFCON, the worry isn’t about whether he’ll be fit in time but whether he is in optimum shape to play against decent opposition. The former Sunderland striker, who went on a hiatus in the post-mortem of Ghana’s AFCON 2012 exit after heavy criticism for missing a penalty in the semi-final versus Zambia, is back in the international fold but hasn’t played with the same sharpness since his return to the team. His recent performances have been encouraging, though.

Despite the worries and the omission of Jordan Ayew, Ghana certainly have better striking options compared to last time around. Richmond Boakye, who is on the books of Juventus, is promising and may finally be the very good striker Ghana have been craving for, while Berekum Chelsea’s Emmanuel Clottey was last year’s Africa Champions League top scorer.

Ghana, after Ivory Coast, will be the second most complete team at the Cup of Nations. There are weaknesses in defence that  should be forensically tested by DR Congo, but Ghana will be very difficult to beat once again. With ten newbies in the squad, the likes of DR Congo and Mali will provide a good measure of their status quo. If they perform to their capability then a passage to the semis will be a stroll. Will Andre Ayew’s absence be a blessing or a curse?

Coach: Akwasi Appiah

Ghana’s first home-grown coach since 2002, Appiah played for Ghanaian giants Asante Kotoko for a decade and also captained the national team. The armband was taken away from him just before the 1992 Cup of Nations – one of the many situations that has had him considered as not being assertive enough. He had been Ghana’s assistant coach since 2008 before he was appointed.

Key man: Emmanuel Agyemang Badu

Badu by name, Goodu by nature. The Udinese midfielder is incredibly consistent for Ghana and his drive was dearly missed when they bowed out in the semi-final of the last Cup of Nations. Although he isn’t the tallest, the 22-year-old is blessed with an incredible leap. Ghana simply don’t have another Agyemang-Badu.

One to watch: Christian Atsu

The Porto winger’s scintillating display against Malawi in the play-off first leg evoked feelings that we were watching the darting runs of Abedi Pele in his pomp. No pressure, Christian.

SFG Predicts…

Runners-up.

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