By Richard Farley
Getting to knowâ€¦ Ghana
The Black Stars, four-time continental champions, are one of the most successful teams in African history, with their quarterfinal appearance at the 2010 World Cup matching an the continentâ€™sÂ best finish in FIFAâ€™s quadrennial showcase.
Had it not been for a dramaticÂ Luis SuÃ¡rezÂ hand ball and a penalty miss from Asamoah Gyan, the team would have gotten one step farther, yet in the United States, the nation of Abedi Pele, Samuel Kuffour, Stephen Appiah andÂ Michael EssienÂ is known for only one thing: Knocking the U.S. out of the last two World Cups.
Since their last win over the States in 2010, Ghana has been relatively humbled, finishing fourth at the last two African Cup of Nations tournaments.
In World Cup qualifying, however, the Black Stars reasserted their place in Africaâ€™s pecking order. The West African nation will be appearing at its third straight World Cup.
Record in qualifying
Drawn into a qualifying group with Zambia, Lesotho, and Sudan, Ghana lost only one of six games, putting up a +15 goal difference en route to Africaâ€™sÂ playoff round. Drawn against Egypt, Ghana delivered another blow to head coach Bob Bradley, using a 6-1 win in leg one to cruise past the Pharaohs, 7-3 over two legs.
What group are they in?Â
From the Ghanaiansâ€™ point of view, the Group Gâ€™s only reprieve is the United States â€“ a team Ghanaâ€™s proven it can beat. Against Germany and Portugal, however, the Black Stars will be heavy underdogs, even if theSeleccaoÂ presents a chance to qualify for another knockout round.
16 June, 18:00, Natal â€“ Ghana vs. United States
22Â June, 16:00, Fortaleza â€“ Germany vs. Ghana
26 June, 12:00, Brasilia â€“ Portugal vs. Ghana
Star player:Â Asamoah Gyan
Ghana has no shortage of name talents, from Milanâ€™s Essien and Sulley Muntari to fellow midfielders AndrÃ© Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Kevin Prince-Boateng.
The most consistent presence ofÂ the teamâ€™s name talents, however, is former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan.
Most famous for missing the 2010 penalty kick that would have put Ghana into the final four, the 28-year-old 39 goals in 78 international appearances makes him the one proven scoring threat in Appiahâ€™s starting lineup.
Skilled, pacey, and intelligent, the Ghanaian captainÂ has scored 100 goals for United Arab Emirates club Al Ain since moving to the Middle East three years ago.
For his national team, the long-time lone striker is now being helped up top by Spartak Moscowâ€™s Majeed Waris, whose speed mayÂ open up space for his veteran partner.
Manager:Â Kwesi Appiah
An assistant in 2012 and former coach of Ghanaâ€™s U-23 team, the former Black Stars defender took over as head coach in April 2012.
ChoosingÂ freedom for his players over tactical nuance, the 53-year-old has implemented a basic 4-4-2 to leverage theÂ virtues of his talented core.
If Appiah doesnâ€™t revert to a five-man midfield (as he did in a recent friendly against the Netherlands), players like Asamoah, Boateng andÂ Christian AtsuÂ will be given the roomÂ to pursuit their opportunities, something that will hopefully present goals forÂ Gyan.
Secret weapon: Mohammed Rabiu
Asamoah, Ayew, Boateng, Essien, and Muntari may not be assured starting spots, but Rabiu, a 24-year-old who plays in Russia with Kuban Krasnodar, looks set to be Appiahâ€™s destroyer.
A member of the Ghana team that won the 2009 U-20 World Cup, Rabiuâ€™s energy in front of the defense will be important in protecting the weakest part of the Black Starsâ€™ team.
Tall, lanky, and with only 16 games of international experience, the former Evian midfielder will anchor whatever midfield Appiah decides to build around him.