Features: Ghana favourites to win AFCON for first time since 1982

Ghana

In January, football fans from around the world will once again witness the best nations in Africa competing for the illustrious 2013 Africa Cup of Nations trophy.

Sixteen teams from the second largest continent will participate in what could be regarded as the most underrated competition in international football.

Having won the title four times in their history – their last triumph in 1982 against Libya – it should come as no surprise that Ghana enter the tournament as one of the prime favourites.

Road to South Africa

Ghana were given a ”bye” or pass to the second and final round of the rushed qualifying phase, where they were pitted against minnows Malawi.

The first leg was an evenly contested and relatively slow game, in which Ghana eventually defeated their opponents with a 2-0 scoreline, courtesy of strikes from 20-year-old Christian Atsu and Osasuna midfielder Anthony Annan.

The return leg saw Ghana take an early lead via Afriyie Acquah, which sealed a 1-0 victory for the Black Stars and secured the team a 19th appearance in AFCON.

Malawi did threaten the Ghanaians in both legs by dominating possession for long periods and adopting a robust Stoke City-esque playing style, but ultimately failed to breach the defensive walls of the four-time champions.

Draw

Ghana have been drawn in Group B of the tournament, along with Mali, DR Congo and Niger.

James Kwesi Appiah and his men are the clear the favourites to win this group, at-least on paper.

DR Congo really heavily on forward Dieumerci Mbokani and will likely only manage a qualification spot if the 26-year-old forward produces a top-notch display during the group stage.

The team will be outside contenders and would need to at least secure a victory againt Niger for a chance to move on in the AFCON.

The Menas are arguably the weakest side in the tournament, with their best players only managing lower league football in Europe. Collectively, they lack the composure, experience and perhaps the talent to overcome a team like Ghana.

Mali, who finished 3rd in last year’s tournament, will provide an adequate and intriguing challenge for the Ghanaians.

The Eagles have a strong side capable of upsetting the odds with the likes of Mohamed Sissoko and Seydou Keita pulling the strings in the midfield and Modibo Maiga and Cheick Diabiate available to exploit the oppositions’ defense.

Strengths

Aside from Ivory Coast, Ghana will arguably have the strongest squad at the AFCON.

Former Sunderland hit-man and captain Asamoah Gyan will spearhead the nation’s attack and will be supplemented by the exciting Ayew brother of Marseille.

Although the 26-year-old Gyan is often labelled as one of the biggest “chokers” in world football, missing crucial penalties in the quarter-final of the 2010 World Cup and in the semi-final of the 2012 AFCON, he is still very capable of finding the back of the net from regular play. If Gyan is unable to hit a rich streak of scoring form at the competition, however, Ghana could end up with an impotent and struggling strike-force.

The older Ayew brother, 22-year-old winger André, is likely to have his “breakthrough-tournament”. While the Marseille winger is already among the most coveted youngsters in the game due to his monstrous performances on the flanks, the 40-times-capped national star is yet gain the kind of attention from the media that he truly deserves.

His younger brother, Jordan, who often plays more centrally along the forward line is known for his speed and clever eye for goal, executing the role of poacher for the team.

Porto attacker Christian Atsu is also another player who should not be looked over entering the competition.

Atsu primarily operates as a left winger and even though his dribbling skills could certainly improve, the the youngster has tremendous work ethic, pace, and vision to easily get behind the opposing backline.

Tottenham Hotpur manager Andre-Villa Boas was even mulling over a bid for the winger in order to strengthen his wide options.

The midfield of the Black Stars could be regarded better than many of top European clubs in terms of the potential of the players.

Currently on-loan at Real Madrid from Chelsea, Michael Essien is expected to play in his first competition with Ghana for almost four years.

Juventus star and former Manchester United target, Kwadwo Asamoah, youngster Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and central midfielder Anthony Annan should also form a vital cog for the team in the middle of the park.

The four can run the team’s play with sheer excellence and provide the required depth in the squad

The availability of AC Milan’s Sulley Muntari remains a big question as the defensive midfielder has been struggling with a thigh injury, while his club teammate Kevin-Prince Boateng announced retirement from international football last year.

Weaknesses

Although Ghana have a phenomenal midfield and attack, along with a relatively solid and consistent defense, one of the side’s biggest weaknesses is their usual inability to perform under pressure.

The Ghanaians have hugely under-achieved over the past decade and suffered heartbreaking eliminations from the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 AFCON in their most recent major competitions.

In the latter tournament, the Black Stars were the overwhelming favourites to land the title, but failed to perform when it really mattered and and crashed out at the semifinal stage to Zambia; then losing the 3rd place match to group-mates Mali.

Moreover, while the squad contains many experienced stars playing in a number of the elite European leagues, some of the youngsters that may be called in to supplement the starting eleven could prove to inexperienced for an intense tournament like the AFCON.

Expert’s Opinion

Mohamed Al-Hendy, Correspondent at Bleacher Report and a leading African football expert, tells us about his expectations from the Ghana team at the AFCON 2013 in a short-interview.

Q1) Can Ghana be considered as the favourites for the Cup of Nations?

I wouldn’t really call them the favourites at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations; Ivory Coast remains significantly more talented individually than any other national team in Africa. But they are up there. This tournament could potentially be Michael Essien’s first international tournament with Ghana since AFCON 2008, and his return would be a huge boost for the team. Sulley Muntari’s participation is also in doubt, but likewise his inclusion would be a boost in quality for Ghana.

Among the players who will definitely be at Ghana’s disposal, the Ayew brothers are a fearsome, pacey pair, who have both continued to pick up experience and excel with Marseille in Ligue 1. Kwadwo Asamoah has also become a key player for Juventus, and overall, the core of the team remains very young but hungry. The youthfulness of Ghana’s NT will surely prove useful in games where endurance is a big factor, which is the case with many international matches between African teams.

Q2) What are your thoughts on the team’s draw?

The group stage should be fairly easy for Ghana. Niger will be playing in their second consecutive AFCON, and second in their history as well, but they are significantly weaker than any team in their group. DR Congo have two dangerous strikers in Tresor Mputu and Dieumerci Mbokani, but they lack players proven at the highest level of the beautiful game. Mali has the best chance of taking any points away from Ghana, but the team is far removed from its glory days. Mahamadou Diarra and Seydou Keita have both aged, and no longer play for Real Madrid and Barcelona. Frederic Kanoute, the team’s former talisman, has retired, and has yet to be adequately replaced up front. Group B should be Ghana’s for the taking.

Afterwards, its anyone’s guess as to how the knockout rounds go. If the heavyweights perform as expected, Ghana should not have to face Ivory Coast until the finals, but they’ll have to get through a stacked Nigeria side in the semis to do so.

Q3) Who will be the key players for the Ghanaians?

Asamoah Gyan is Ghana’s leader; only Sulley Muntari, John Pantsil and John Mensah have more caps, and none of them have as much influence on Ghana’s game as Gyan. He is the focal point of the team’s offense, often the lone striker, and there is almost always a strong correlation between his form and Ghana’s overall success.

One player who isn’t necessarily a key player, but still quite an interesting prospect, is Christian Atsu. Since joining Porto at the age of 17, Atsu has been carefully groomed by the Portuguese club, and after a strong loan season with Rio Ave in 2011-12, the Ghanaian has been entrusted with considerable playing time at Porto. He’s still only 20, very, very pacey, and a good winger. It’ll be interesting to see what he can bring to the team at the 2013 AFCON.

I wouldn’t really call them the favourites at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations; Ivory Coast remains significantly more talented individually than any other national team in Africa. But they are up there. This tournament could potentially be Michael Essien’s first international tournament with Ghana since AFCON 2008, and his return would be a huge boost for the team. Sulley Muntari’s participation is also in doubt, but likewise his inclusion would be a boost in quality for Ghana.

Among the players who will definitely be at Ghana’s disposal, the Ayew brothers are a fearsome, pacey pair, who have both continued to pick up experience and excel with Marseille in Ligue 1. Kwadwo Asamoah has also become a key player for Juventus, and overall, the core of the team remains very young but hungry. The youthfulness of Ghana’s NT will surely prove useful in games where endurance is a big factor, which is the case with many international matches between African teams.

Q2) What are your thoughts on the team’s draw?

The group stage should be fairly easy for Ghana. Niger will be playing in their second consecutive AFCON, and second in their history as well, but they are significantly weaker than any team in their group. DR Congo have two dangerous strikers in Tresor Mputu and Dieumerci Mbokani, but they lack players proven at the highest level of the beautiful game. Mali has the best chance of taking any points away from Ghana, but the team is far removed from its glory days. Mahamadou Diarra and Seydou Keita have both aged, and no longer play for Real Madrid and Barcelona. Frederic Kanoute, the team’s former talisman, has retired, and has yet to be adequately replaced up front. Group B should be Ghana’s for the taking.

Afterwards, its anyone’s guess as to how the knockout rounds go. If the heavyweights perform as expected, Ghana should not have to face Ivory Coast until the finals, but they’ll have to get through a stacked Nigeria side in the semis to do so.

Q3) Who will be the key players for the Ghanaians?

Asamoah Gyan is Ghana’s leader; only Sulley Muntari, John Pantsil and John Mensah have more caps, and none of them have as much influence on Ghana’s game as Gyan. He is the focal point of the team’s offense, often the lone striker, and there is almost always a strong correlation between his form and Ghana’s overall success.

One player who isn’t necessarily a key player, but still quite an interesting prospect, is Christian Atsu. Since joining Porto at the age of 17, Atsu has been carefully groomed by the Portuguese club, and after a strong loan season with Rio Ave in 2011-12, the Ghanaian has been entrusted with considerable playing time at Porto. He’s still only 20, very, very pacey, and a good winger. It’ll be interesting to see what he can bring to the team at the 2013 AFCON.

READERS COMMENTS

  1. keith from germany says:

    mr editor u are making a fool of urself by saying dr congo only rely on mbokani n mputu for goals.thats a big lie check ur facts.
    they have a very dangerous striker in the person of dominic kumbela who is leading the goalking race with 12 goals in the second bundesliga of germany.a very fast n red alert striker who out of 1 chance scores two goals,this shows he dont need a lot of chances.
    lamona lualua formerly of newcastle united but now with turkish top tier karabükspor is also someboy we dont have to forget.
    congo for me will be very dangerous becuz their players play top leagues in belgium,england,france,germany n turkey.
    zambia proved to us that now in modern dey football there are no underdogs so we will all be making a fool of ourselves by underating niger.
    i sense some danger for us in this afcon but i will also be the first person to rejoice if we go through.underate dr congo n niger at ur own peril.

    • BoscoGh says:

      .”a very fast n red alert striker who out of 1 chance scores two goals”

      In a probability situation,how can the outcome be more than the opportunity presented? Please come caome again on this.

      I would prefer Ghana avoids this favourites tag. We honestly dont look like one. The tournament may favor us like we had in Angola where Milovan managed to reach the grand finale with a depleted team, I hope for a repetion of that because as comparted to teams like CIV we are not favourites.

      Happy new year to all

  2. keith from germany says:

    bro bosco i was exergerating a little bit.wat im trying to say is this kumbela of a guy dont need a lot of chances.
    hope u get my point now.

  3. Robeen says:

    This article is NOT accurate. Many players mentioned here are not part of the current squad going to SA.

    Please read it carefully.

  4. kimco says:

    yeah, i thought so too, infact i thought it was a comilation of some archives…but hey. It just badly written
    And to beat it: i don’t get u, isn’t it 16 teams competing? Or am i missing something?