Population: 21,000,000
Area: 239,460 km²
Capital: Accra
Language: English

Ghana won CAF group 2 in convincing style five points ahead of Congo DR and South Africa.
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Jan 11 Togo v Ghana 1-0
Jan 15 Tunisia v Ghana 2-0
Jan 23 Nigeria v Ghana 1-0
Jan 27 Senegal v Ghana 0-1
Jan 31 Zimbabwe v Ghana 2-1
Mar 02 Mexico v Ghana 1-0
May 26 Turkey v Ghana 1-1
May 29 Jamaica v Ghana 1-4
Jun 04 South Korea v Ghana 1-3

Participated: None
Best placing: None
Topscorer: None

Jun 12 - GHA v ITA  in Hannover
Jun 17 - GHA v CZE  in Cologne
Jun 22 - GHA v USA  in Nuremberg

- Ghana in Group E -
Jan Alsos: 4th place
Pierre Boisrond: 4th place
Ruud Doevendans: 4th place
Mike Gibbons: 3rd place
Peter Goldstein: 2nd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 4th place
Felipe Santos: 4th place
PREDICTION: First round exit


by Peter Goldstein

    The Black Stars’ history is unique. Teams that excel at regional level inevitably play a role at the World Cup itself. But not Ghana. For many years they were one of the great powers of Africa: four times Nations Cup champions, seven times finalists. But when they got to the World Cup qualifiers, they were as helpless as any minnow. Not only did they never qualify, they never got close. Even after their Nations Cup heyday, they kept producing spectacular youth teams--FIFA U-17 world champions in 1991 and 1995, runners-up in 1993 and 1997, not to mention U-20 runners-up in 1993 and 2001. But it didn’t matter; the senior team remained as far away as ever. In 2005 it had been 13 years since their last Nations Cup Final, and a lot of fans had pretty much given up on ever making the Big One. So, of course…

    The architect of qualifying was coach Ratomir Dujkovic. He took over Ghana midway in the group stage, with the side in second place and still needing to travel to their two main rivals, DR Congo and South Africa. They notched a draw in Kinshasa, then reeled off four straight wins, including a 2:0 shocker in Johannesburg, to take the group. Depleted by injury, the team flopped at the Nations Cup in Egypt, but despite widespread cries for Dujkovic’s scalp, the FA kept him on.

    Ghana is justly famous for their midfield, and we’ll get to them in a minute. But what makes the team successful is defense--not so much the back line, as all over the field. They mark closely, contest every ball, rarely give you space. In the qualifiers they allowed only 4 goals in 12 games, easily the best in Africa. They may be untested at top level, but even Italy should find them hard to crack.

    And now to the Fab Four, the midfield, Ghana’s glory--if at the moment slightly diminished. The best-known name is Michael Essien (Chelsea), on his day as complete a midfielder as you’ll see. He’s a rugged defender, with pace and good ball skills; although he hasn’t scored much in the EPL this year, at Lyon he showed he can put the ball in the net as well. For the Black Stars he plays the anchor spot. On the left there’s Sulley Muntari (Udinese), another powerful physical presence, at times deceptively casual. He’s agile and an excellent passer, with a hard left-footed shot. Most important of all is captain Stephen Appiah (Fenerbahce), the former Juventus man, who plays a free attacking role. A superb footballing brain, with pinpoint technique, he scores, creates, and leads, and will play a vital role in just about every Ghanaian attack.

    Unfortunately, that’s only John, Paul, and George. Ringo is/was right-sider Laryea Kingston (Lokomotiv Moscow), an instinctive attacker, excellent on the dribble and a first-rate passer. But he was hammered with a four-game suspension for an altercation at the Nations Cup, and there’s no indication it’ll be reduced. At the moment his replacement looks like Otto Addo (Mainz), a big man who’s a good dribbler. He’s a bit slow, though, and tends to hold onto the ball too much. Derek Boateng (AIK Stockholm), lively with good moves, is making a late run for consideration. But in any case whoever takes the spot will likely be a drop in class from Kingston.

    The centerbacks are a definite strength. The famous name is Sammy Kuffour, the Bayern Munich veteran, Champions League winner, now with Roma. He’s smallish, quick, intelligent, technically strong, with excellent anticipation. He was off the team for a while in a dispute with Dujkovic (and to show you how strong Ghana is on defense, they won their final four qualifiers without him, allowing exactly one goal), but now is firmly back in the fold. John Mensah, just coming into his own at Rennes, is the natural complement: aggressive, physical, strong in the air.

    The fullbacks are solid, if not quite of the same quality. On the left, Emmanuel Pappoe (Hapoel Kfar Sava) is a tidy player, a little small and a little short of pace, but steady and precise. The regular on the right has been John Paintsil (Hapoel Tel Aviv), maybe a bit too aggressive; he loves to get forward and has a cracking shot. He’s currently being challenged by Hans Sarpei (Wolfsburg), not as physical and not quite the attacking threat, but steadier and a little quicker to the ball.

    The keeper is Sammy Adjei (MS Ashdod). Although only 25, he’s been making headlines for many years. An extra-hot propect as a youth player, he’s come along slowly and appears to be reaching first maturity. His reflexes are outstanding, and he’s improving on high balls and crosses, which used to be a significant weakness.

    And speaking of weakness, we come at last to the strike force. It’s been the problem area all along. Up until recently there were only three candidates for the two spots, and now it looks like only two. One is Matthew Amoah (Borussia Dortmund), who scored a couple of crucial goals down the qualifying stretch. He’s a straight-ahead sort with good pace, who times his runs well. He can play in the midfield too, and is an option to replace Kingston or maybe as a fifth midfielder in a 4-5-1. The other is Asamoah Gyan (Modena), who missed the Nations Cup. He’s muscular, creative, with a quick turn, although his technique is inconsistent. The third possibility was Isaac Boakye (Arminia Bielefeld), a centerforward making his mark in the Bundesliga, strong, with good ball skills, and an opportunistic finisher. But he appears to have picked up a meniscus injury in a recent friendly, and may now be out of the tournament. Any other candidates are unproven.

    With the Nations Cup fiasco and the apparent loss of Kingston, Black Stars fans are considerably less confident than they were six months ago. The squad as a whole lacks depth, and unlike Côte D’Ivoire and Tunisia, hasn’t yet been tested by European teams in friendlies. But despite the tough group, Ghana may yet make their mark. Even at the World Cup, a striker weakness isn’t necessarily fatal (look at France in 1998), and if the midfield is in form they can pick up the slack. What may decide Ghana’s fate is the back line, where only Kuffour is a known quantity. If they’re up to the task, look out. Defense can take you a long way at the World Cup, and Ghana play it very well. If Dujkovic can get them confident and ready, they’ll challenge for a second-round spot.




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