By Mark Gleeson
Coming within a kick of creating history at the last World Cup will be the spur for Ghana as they seek to break new ground in Brazil this year.
The Black Stars squandered a last minute penalty in extra time of their quarter-final tie against Uruguay in Johannesburg four years ago to miss becoming the first African side to reach the final four at a World Cup tournament and have been haunted by the failure ever since.
It will provide the motivation for a country who have been handed a tough draw but are confident of progressing past at least two of Germany, Portugal and the United States in Group G.
While Asamoah Gyan’s missed penalty – awarded after Luis Suarez infamously stopped a certain goal with his hand - was the subject of much heartbreak it has, paradoxically, given the country a heightened sense of achievement and possibility.
Coach Kwesi Appiah has repeatedly suggested in the run-up to the tournament that Ghana will make the semi-finals this time around, despite the difficult group.
The confidence also stems from a proficient qualifying campaign where Ghana edged out 2012 African champions Zambia to win their group and then thrashed Egypt in the two-legged play-off.
The convincing nature of their 6-1 home win over the Egyptians in Kumasi in the first leg suggests they are the best balanced of the five African countries who have qualified for Brazil and the most likely to progress deep into the tournament.
Their prospects have been bolstered by a return to the fold of Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng, both of whom had put their international careers on hold in 2011.
Pledging themselves once again to the Ghana cause late last year, when World Cup qualification looked imminent, could lead to cynical suggestions of expediency but they have been warmly welcomed on their return.
Essien played a monstrous midfield role against Egypt, which proved a major surprise given a paucity of game time at club level in recent seasons for the injury-hampered star.
Influential players like Gyan, who has scored 39 goals for his country, Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari and Dede Ayew all return from the 2010 squad.
Ghana do struggle at the back, however, with a lack of quality in goal and defense.
Fatau Dauda was first choice keeper in the qualifiers but has lost his place because of a lack of game time at club level.
In defense the successors to John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah come with little of the quality the centre back paring provided at past tournaments.