Soccer romantics will remember the Ghana came agonizingly close to making history on its own continent four-years-ago. Only the hand of Uruguay’s Luis Suárez on the goal line prevented Ghana from a well-deserved goal and probable passage through to the semi-finals in South Africa. Instead, Ghana missed the resulting penalty and then lost in a shootout. Meanwhile, Suárez became public enemy number one amongst the world’s media and fans of the underdog.
This time Kwesi Appiah and his Black Stars will be wiser and have another chance to make history for Africa. However, an unforgiving group consisting of Germany, Portugal and the USA stands in the way. The Germans need no introduction. With three World Cup final wins (all as West Germany) it is the second most successful European side after Italy. It also has been runner-up more times than any other nation.
Portugal does not have much of a World Cup pedigree, but it does have Cristiano Ronaldo – probably the best player in the world on current form. Although the USA is still seen as an international equivalent of a below mid-table side, the nation will want to build on what has been a steady growth in soccer after hosting the tournament in 1994.
Forward and skipper Asamoah Gyan, who plies his trade in the UAE will be one of the first names on the team sheet. He will also want to make amends for his penalty miss against Uruguay in 2010. His miss ultimately cost Ghana progression in 2010.Arguably the most famous of the Ghana team is fellow forward and Schalke 04 man, Kevin Prince-Boateng, who is expected to play in the deeper-lying number 10 role.
While former captain John Mensah has missed out on a call in the provisional 26-man squad – soon to be reduced to 23 – Chelsea veteran Michael Essien has made the cut. Although past his best, Essien will add much-needed steel and experience to the midfield.
Brazilian great Pelé famously claimed that an African nation would win the World Cup before the year 2000. Apart from Cameroon’s surprise run to a quarter-final clash clash with England at Italia ’90, Ghana is the only country from that part of the world to even threaten to achieve a last four spot. Nevertheless, Ghana will take hope from its last outing on the world’s biggest stage and hope to emulate the heroics of 2010.
Ghana goes into the tournament as a rank outsider and so should be able to use the low expectation level in its favor. Furthermore, the best two teams on paper do not always qualify – one often slits the other one’s throat and piles the pressure on. All it takes is for one slip up by Portugal and the African nation could seize its opportunity. However, progressing any further than the knockout stages is again probably no more than a romantic dream. Yet in soccer, dreams do come true.
World Cup Preview is a series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd