Things had not been looking particularly good for Ghana before the start of the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola earlier this year. Despite having comfortably qualified for the World Cup with some impressive displays against Mali, Benin and Sudan, disciplinary issues involving Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari as well as injuries to a large number of key players looked to have scuppered the team’s chances of winning CAN and enjoying a smooth run to the World Cup. But then, quite unexpectedly, a minor miracle happened.
With what was essentially a team filled with reserves and inexperienced young players plucked from the country’s 2009 Under 20 World Cup-winning side, Serbian Coach Milovan Rajevac guided his side to the final of CAN 2010 before being narrowly defeated by Egypt. It had long been obvious that Ghana was harbouring a talented group of young players, but just how exceptionally good some of them were had not been clear until they burst onto the scene in Angola.
Andre and Ibrahim Ayew, sons of the great Abedi Pele, particularly impressed, as did Milan’s Dominic Adiyiah and the Udinese pair of Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Kwadwo Asamoah. Such is the level of ability that these players have displayed over the last 18 months, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that Ghana is now the country with the most promising group of young players of any side in world football. If they can continue to improve and reproduce their recent form this summer alongside some of the Black Stars’ more experienced players, then there is no reason why Ghana can’t make a real impression in South Africa.
Although Rajevac appeared to prefer a 4-4-2 system during CAN, with players such as Essien and Muntari to come back into the fray the Serbian may well revert back to the 4-2-3-1 which he used with regularity during qualifying. A flat back four (albeit with relatively offensively-minded full-backs) is likely to be shielded by Sulley Muntari and Anthony Annan – two technically proficient defensive midfielders – with Andre Ayew, Michael Essien (injury permitting) and Kwadwo Asamoah the most obvious candidates to form the more advanced bank of three. Having said that, in the unlikely event of Stephen Appiah returning to full fitness by the end of the season, the dynamic Bologna midfielder (who has been plagued by injury in recent years) might well start in place of the young Ayew. Asamoah Gyan, who performed so admirably in Angola and who has scored 13 goals in 24 starts for Rennes in Ligue 1 this season, is set to lead the line, a player who thrives as a loan striker and will represent Ghana’s most likely source of goals in South Africa.
Despite Rajevac’s side being unfortunate in the fact that they have been drawn in one of the tournament’s most difficult groups, the Black Stars are a quality outfit with huge potential which, if realised, should see them comfortably through to the last 16, if not beyond.
Probable starting XI: Kingson (Wigan Athletic); Pantsil (Fulham), Addo (Roda JC), Mensah (Sunderland), Sarpei (Bayer Leverkussen); Annan (Rosenborg), Muntari (Inter); A. Ayew (Marseille), Essien (Chelsea), Asamoah. K (Udinese); Gyan (Rennes)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in CAF qualifying third round Group D
World Ranking: 32nd