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May 26, 2010
 

World Cup 2010 Previews: Ghana

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Country: Ghana

Nicknames: Black Stars, Black Meteors, None More Black, the Guys That Knocked Us Out of the Last World Cup (okay, I made two of those up).

Coach: Milovan Rajevac. The Serb has been in charge of Ghana since August 2008. He led the Black Stars to the final of the African Cup of Nations last January, where they lost to Egypt 1-0.

This is Ghana’s second appearance in the World Cup finals. They’ve had far more success locally, given that their country’s FA wasn’t founded until 1957. Of course Ghana wasn’t a country (originally Gold Coast) until 1957, so there was the whole sovereign and independence thing holding things up. Anyway, they won the Cup of Nations in ’63 and ’65 and also made the finals again in ’68 and ’70. But we feel pretty confident in saying the results from the early days of the country’s national team won’t mean much come this summer.

Ghana drew into Group D, which kind of blows for them as that might be the Group of Death (Group G could also lay claim to that distinction). Still, it’s a stupid name as the same number of teams—two—will advance from the supposed Group of Death as will from every other group. But of the four teams in the group, three of them—Germany, Australia, and Ghana—advanced to the knock-out rounds of the 2006 World Cup. The remaining team, Serbia, finished dead last (i.e. 32nd) in Germany, going 0-3 with a -8 GD. Pity Serbia as they also drew into a similarly lethal group in 2006 (Argentina, Ivory Coast, and the Netherlands).

But Ghana can take small solace in the fact that Germany is battling numerous injury woes and Australia doesn’t seem to be playing at the same level they did under Guus Hiddink, not to mention there’s no way teams will take them lightly this time around. No such luck with Serbia, they will be a handful for anybody.

WC Fixtures (Group D):

Ghana v. Serbia – June 13, Pretoria
Ghana v. Australia – June 19, Port Elizabeth
Ghana v. Germany – June 23, Johannesburg

Ghana’s Provisional Squad:

GK: Richard Kingson (Wigan), Daniel Adjei (Liberty Professionals), Stephen Ahorlu (Heart of Lions), Steven Adams (Aduana Stars)

DF: John Paintsil (Fulham), John Mensah (Sunderland), Eric Addo (Roda JC), Jonathan Mensah (Free State Stars), Samuel Inkoom (FC Basel), Abdul Rahim Ayew (El Zamalek), Isaac Vorsah (Hoffenheim), Lee Addy (Bechem Chelsea)

MF: Stephen Appiah (Bologna), Sulley Muntari (Internazionale), Michael Essien (Spartak London), Haminu Draman (Lokomotiv Moscow), Laryea Kingston (Heart of Midlothian), Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese), Derek Boateng (Getafe), Dede Ayew (AC Arles-Avignon), Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (Al-Sadd), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Bennard Kumordzi (Panionions), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth)

FW: Asamoah Gyan (Rennes), Matthew Amoah (NAC Breda), Prince Tagoe (Hoffenheim), Dominic Adiyiah (Milan)

Home Base in South Africa: Rhoode Valley, Gauteng, Pretoria

Ghana’s History in WC Competition: American soccer fans should have a decent knowledge of Ghana’s World Cup history (See: Name, Nick). Having lost to Italy 2-0 and beaten the Czech Republic by the same scoreline, the Black Stars victory in the last group match saw them through to the knockouts at the Americans’ expense in their inaugural appearance. They lost to Brazil in the round of 16, but the 3-0 scoreline isn’t entirely accurate of how they comported themselves. But those four matches comprise the country’s entire World Cup history.

Road to South Africa:  They won CAF’s Group D (Benin, Mali, Sudan) with a 4-1-1 record and a +6 GD.

Team Style: The Black Stars fancy themselves as the Brazil of Africa. That must make Rajevac the Dunga of Ghana as their 2010 Cup of Nations results might suggest this is not the dynamic attacking force Ghanaians believe themselves to be. They lost 3-1 to Cote d’Ivoire before beating Burkina Faso 1-0 and advancing to the knock-outs (they played only two group matches as Togo withdrew from the competition). They then beat Angola 1-0 and Nigeria 1-0 in the quarters and semis respectively, before losing 1-0 to Egypt in the final. That’s four goals scored in five matches, while also conceding four (three of which were in the opener).

That defensive performance is even more remarkable given 1) Their keeper, Richard Kingson, is very shaky between the pipes—clearly Roberto Martinez had no faith in him as he failed to feature a single time for Wigan this season—and 2) Michael Essien was injured in the opening match against Cote d’Ivoire (although Essien plays a more central and less defensive role for the national side than he does at Spartak London) and didn’t play again in the tournament.

Recent Form:
 Being runners-up in the Cup of Nations would suggest the side is in good shape. Additionally, Ghana was the first team from Africa to punch its ticket for this summer’s soiree (host country excluded obviously). Yippee for them. I’m sure their opponents in Group D give a crap. They’ll be far happier to know that this team has legit injury concerns with both their once and future captains heading the list. First, Steven Appiah hasn’t played much competitive football for almost two years because of knee problems. Fun fact Spurs fans, Appiah was brought in to WHL for a looksee last January with an eye toward signing him, but injury concerns killed any chance of a signing and they opted for Wilson Palacios instead. Appiah’s appearance on the 30-man provisional has more to do with sentimentality than actual recent on-field form.

Then there is Michael Essien. One of the top mids in the world, the Bison has been battling injuries since December. He is hopeful of being fit in time for South Africa, but there’s been nothing official from the GFA or his manager and the clock is ticking.

There’s also defending Johns Mensah and Paintsil. Both returned to their premier league clubs late in the season. Mensah however limped back off the field after about 15 minutes against Manchester United with recurring back issues. In fact Mensah is putting off corrective back surgery that would keep him out for up to a year just so he can (try to) play in this summer’s World Cup. Paintsil should be fine, but he missed most a large chunk of the season and might not be back to full form he had in 08-09 when he was a steal on my fantasy side.

On top of that, Ghana has had trouble just getting matches to help prepare for this summer. A friendly against Paraguay in February fell though. That was replaced with a match-up against Bosnia, which the Black Stars lost 2-1. They had a scheduled match for May 27, but no opponent. So their first test of any sort since February will be June 1 against the Netherlands. That’s followed by lightweights Latvia four days later.

What the media says:
 Screw the media, Ghanaian president John Evans Atta Mills has declared: “We will win the World Cup because God is on our side and I’m sure we’ve made all the necessary preparations. I have no doubt [the team] will make us all proud in South Africa.”

How can they not win? God is on their side. And God is omnipotent. At least we would assume Ghana’s god is omnipotent. Be silly of him not to be.

Key Players:
Michael Essien, MF – Chelsea FC

He hits this maybe once every 200 tries, but on just about the biggest stage under the most pressure, he nailed it. Still Chelsea lost. Ha ha ha ha ha. Ah, maybe we should post the Iniesta goal to go with.

Asamoah Gyan, ST – Rennes

Scored Ghana’s lone goals in both the quarters and the semis of the Cup of Nations. Also had 13 in 29 appearances at club side Rennes in Ligue 1.

Sulley Muntari, MF – Internazionale

Muntari is only 25? Really? Doesn’t it seem like he should be in at least his mid-thirties? Anyway, here he is getting sent off less than a minute after coming on with not a straight red, but two yellows. That’s tough to do even if you’re trying. If you want to see some actual skill click here (although most of the work is done in advance of his finish, still it’s a pretty sweet last touch to beat the keeper).

Junior Agogo: Awesome Name, Not on Squad

Question Marks: Seems like this was covered above when talking about injuries—although we’d have a hard time believing even an 80% Essien wouldn’t play—and their s**tty keepers. That and the fact that their opponents are pretty good make for some question marks.

But let’s turn that frown upside down, because not all questions are bad. Ghana won the most recent U-20 World Cup, becoming the first African side to do so. They did it despite going a man down early to Brazil in the final yet still surviving to penalties where they won 4-3.

Six of the players from that squad were named to the provisional 30-man roster. Among them is Dominic Adiyiah. The 20-year-old was the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe winner at the tourney. The kid signed with AC Milan after the tournament but didn’t get to see the pitch even once during the season. We can only guess that’s because you’re not allowed to play for Mee-lan until you’re at least 32. He is totally legit. Adiyiah should play and he should put some fear into opponents.

Just a final note: word floating out of training camp is that some of the players doubt the technical competency of Rajevac. If you recall there was a rumor floating around in early spring that Jose Mourinho might be brought on in some capacity either as a consultant or even to manage through the World Cup. If the Black Stars open with a loss, then either draw or lose to Australia, expect finger pointing at the manager, followed by a complete implosion (although should they only get 1 point from their first two matches, they are likely done in that group anyway).

UF Prediction:
 Did you not read the part about God being on their side? Ghana will win the World Cup. So let it be written.

Actually, Ghana is a tough call because of their group. Any other draw and we’d almost put them as a lock for the knockouts. Serbia and Germany seem to be the favorites to go though, but Germany’s midfield keeps getting thinner and they’ve got their own issues along the backline. We feel pretty comfortable saying they’ll beat the Socceroos, that might make the last group match versus Germany a battle royale for survival. It also could determine who the US might play should they make the 2nd round.

This is a team with a deceptively deep midfield. If their backline plays well, they could make a run. And if the home continent advantage is worth anything, then seeing Ghana to the quarters or better wouldn’t be a complete surprise. But man, that group is tough. Death even.

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