Saturday, 22 May 2010

32 for 2010: Ghana

Despite a rich history in African football, including a long period of dominance in the Cup of Nations, this is only Ghana's second World Cup Finals having also qualified for Germany four years ago.

Ghana's qualification campaign almost foundered at the first hurdle when they scraped through their first group stage on goal difference. This proved a wake up call for the Black Stars and they breezed through the final stage of qualification - only conceding any goals after their finals place was secure. This strong, defensive quality helped them reach the final of this year's African Cup of Nations, though they hardly enlivened a tragic and over-shadowed tournament with three consecutive 1-0 wins before being beaten by holders Egypt.

Interesting parallels can be drawn between their opponents this World Cup and with last time: the experienced campaigners - Germany (it was Italy last time); a strong Eastern Europe team - Serbia (Czech Republic); and an emerging New World side - Australia (USA). Ghana finished second in their group last time but will be hard pushed to repeat that - and if they do they'll most likely face England in the second round. The match against Serbia, probably their most vital for progression, has added interest as it's where their coach Milovan Rajevac is from.

Essentially, Ghana need goals if they are to have any hope of surviving this tough group. Their midfield has been seriously depleted with lengthy injuries to (among others) Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah - seeing them miss most of the season for their clubs. Essein has not played for Chelsea since he was injured playing in the Cup of Nations in January while Appiah has played only two end-of-season games for Bologna since signing for them in November. Both are in the squad, but just what sort of impact these players can have is anyone's guess. Sulley Muntari, while a regular for Inter this season, has only managed to play 90 minutes three times out of 27 appearances, scoring just once.

This leaves the goal-scoring duties falling on the shoulders of Stade Rennes' Asamoah Gyan and NAC Breda's Matthew Amoah, neither of whom have particularly shone domestically. Ravejac has given repeated call up offers to Inter's precocious striker Mario Balotelli who has Ghanain parents. Balotelli, who earlier this season was described by his boss Jose Mourinho as "brainless", has refused each advance in favour of waiting to see if he can make it into the Italian senior squad (he already plays for the under-21s).

We won't see the best of Ghana at this World Cup, but that doesn't mean they'll go down without a fight.

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