The 2019 African Cup of Nations is just around the corner and Ghana go into the tournament ranked just behind hosts Egypt as second favorites to lift the trophy. However, in order to conquer the competition, they’ll need to get past 23 teams, rather than just the usual 15, given the expansion. Regardless of the number of teams the Black Stars will fancy their chances of progressing deep into the tournament and, to be honest, anything else would be seen as a huge failure.
Ghana have a glamorous history with the cup having won the tournament four times and although the most recent success was back in 1982, they finished runners up in 2015 – for the fifth time – and reached the semi-finals last time in Gabon, so they’re not miles away. Expectation is slowly creeping up amongst fans and there is no reason why they can’t go all the way this time round.
The Black Stars qualified for the tournament by winning their three-team group – Sierra Leone having been disqualified part way through the qualifying campaign – ahead of Kenya and done so whilst only conceding a single goal. They’re a well-balanced side that don’t give much away at the back, but they can be lethal going forward too, which is a recipe for success.
Unfortunately, it’s not all been plain sailing in their ranks ahead of the tournament though and that’s in no small part due to part of their offensive arsenal, in particular, record scorer Asamoah Gyan. Gyan hasn’t played for Ghana since late 2017 due to fitness issues and a few days ago called time on his international career, after finding out he’d lost his captaincy to Andre Ayew.
His decision was quickly reversed though following a chat with the country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo. There is no question that Gyan is a talent you’d want in your squad – he has netted 51 goals in 106 appearances after all – but Kwasi Appiah, the head coach, will need to ensure he can manage the harmony within his group to avoid anything distracting them from their goal.
Appiah's men have the potential to go all the way in the tournament but progress from their group isn’t guaranteed. First up they’ll face Benin who they should be too strong for, but they should be look carefully as a dark horse, since they defeated Algeria in qualifying and, if Ghana start slow, it’s a banana skin they could easily slip on. That would place enormous pressure on the next fixture.
That second game is against holders Cameroon who defeated Ghana 2-0 in the 2017 semi-final; needless to say, that match could go either way. The Cameroonians have depth in the attack, with Villarreal’s Ekambi and Marseille’s N’Jie and still Aboubakar, if he is fit – since he has been out all season, it is still unsure. They are led by experienced Clarence Seedorf, 4-time Champions League winner, but who hasn’t really succeeded as a coach so far.
If Ghana win the opener, the Cameroon result likely won’t matter as the final group game, against Guinea-Bissau, should be a banker for your soccer bet and six points will probably see them through.
Ghana's squad is blessed with quality – although Appiah has left himself a tough task to cut his provisional 29 down to a 23-man squad – and there are a few players who will really come under the microscope as the competition progresses. If the team crash and burn it will be a stain on their reputation, lift the trophy though and legendary status will be theirs.
Defensively, Ghana will be well drilled as a unit whilst the star man Thomas Partey, who currently plays for Atletico Madrid and has been linked with Manchester United and Arsenal, will occupy a deep lying central midfield position. He is much more than a destroyer too. Skipper Ayew and Newcastle United winger Christian Atsu will be looking to provide a creative spark from wide areas and Mubarak Wakaso, who like Partey plies his trade in Spain, in Alaves, is likely to complete a four-man midfield. At the top of the pitch Ayew's brother, Jordan, and Majeed Waris, who plays for Nantes in Ligue 1, may be handed the goal scoring responsibility.
If those selected to start don’t produce on the pitch, there is plenty of quality waiting in the wings and they’ll be desperate to prove a point – in particular that man Gyan. The recent rumblings would suggest he is not seen as a starter but he’s dominating the talk now and, knowing him, he'll be hogging the press at the end of the tournament as well – albeit for a different reason.