FOUR years ago, the African nations bonded around one country in the World Cup knock-out rounds.
Despite hosting the tournament for the first time in the event’s history, the African nations continued to struggle in the group stage and only saw one of its neighbours manage a berth in the round of 16.
That nation was Ghana and it carried the hopes of a continent. Despite falling short, the run was one of the most impressive in Africa’s history.
Ghana is arguably the best African side at this year’s World Cup in Brazil, but the team is faced with a monumental group to overcome. Can Ghana prove to be among the world’s elite in 2014?
Ghana’s first ever World Cup appearance came in 2006 when the team was placed into a group that included Italy, the United States and the Czech Republic.
The African contingent, also known as the Black Stars, lost 2-0 against Italy in its debut but defeated the Czechs 2-0 and topped the Americans 2-1 in a game that determined both teams’ group fates.
Ghana would move on to the knockout rounds where it would have to take on a tough Brazilian side; Brazil won 3-0.
Four years later in 2010, Ghana was back at the World Cup in a group that included Serbia, Germany and Australia. The team topped Serbia 1-0 before tying Australia 1-1.
In the final game, Ghana lost against Germany but managed to qualify due to having a better goal difference than Australia; the Socceroos lost 4-0 against Germany in their opener and possessed a -3 difference while Ghana was even.
In the knockout rounds, Ghana renewed its rivalry with the United States and managed a 2-1 win in extra time. In the quarterfinals, Ghana was tasked with taking down a surging Uruguay. Ghana blew a 1-0 lead and then was handed a penalty in the waning seconds of the match after Luis Suarez stopped a shot into an empty net with his hands.
Asamoah Gyan had a chance to win it in extra time but fired it over the net. On the ensuing penalty shootout, Uruguay eliminated Ghana 4-2.
How they got here
Ghana was placed into a group that included Lesotho, Sudan and Zambia.
The team dominated the entire group with five wins and one loss and became the highest scoring African side of the group stage with 18 goals scored and only three conceded. The team’s lone defeat was away at Zambia.
In the ensuing round, Ghana was tasked with taking on Egypt, the only undefeated team from the first round. Many felt that this knockout round would be the one to watch, but in the opening 90 minutes Ghana made everyone forget about this tie.
The team destroyed Egypt 6-1. Egypt won 2-1 in the second leg, but it was not enough to overcome the opening leg destruction at the hand of Ghana.
Gyan led Ghana with six goals in the qualifiers.
Gyan is undoubtedly the team’s top star, and at 28, he is likely playing in his final World Cup as a starter. He has 39 goals in 78 matches for the Black Stars and will be counted on to score the big goals. The team will also rely heavily on Kevin-Prince Boateng to control the midfield play.
The Ayew brothers Andre and Jordan will also be likely fixtures in their debut tournament. Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien will also likely be called on to the lead the team in the midfield.
Can they get out of the group?
Ghana is a quick side with tremendous offensive potential. The problem in this tournament could be about containing German’s tremendous offense and Portugal’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Group G has been repeatedly labelled as the Group of Death because it includes Germany, Portugal and the United States. Ghana and the United States have a history and a favorable one at that for the African nation.
As noted above, these two sides have met in the last two tournaments; Ghana has won both games 2-1. The teams previously met in 1983 when Ghana topped the US in two different tournaments.
Ghana has never lost against the US and could leverage this to its advantage.
But Germany is another issue altogether. The Germans took down Ghana in 2006 and are the favorites in this group. Ghana might have the attacking prowess to take down the German contingent, but its defense is likely to wilt against the European side’s bravura and superiority.
Portugal is not a complete side. Most would point to its lack of quality midfielders and lack of attacking options aside from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The old motto is that, if you shut down CR7, then Portugal has no plan B. But the big issue here is whether Ghana can truly shut down Ronaldo at all. He is playing at his best right now and will be more determined than ever to place his stamp on the international tournament.
Can they win it all?
Negative: Ghana is a terrific offensive side, but it lacks the skill or defense to truly make the run necessary to win it all. A knock-out round berth is possible if Portugal or Germany slip, but that is not likely given the quality of the two sides. Look for Ghana to finish third in this group!?