Egypt’s victory over Congo-Brazzaville on Sunday confirmed Ghana’s absence from the 2018 World Cup in Russia following an underwhelming qualifying campaign. They started slowly under Avram Grant, and an unfamiliar XI were held by Uganda in Kampala this weekend as Kwesi Appiah struggled by without several key absentees. You sense it’s the end of an era for the Black Stars, who have reached the semi-finals of the last six Africa Cup of Nations, but Ghana have enough talent at their disposal to come back stronger. Here are five players who will be key to the rebuild.
Thomas Partey: Perhaps he was slightly off the boil against Uganda, but Partey’s outstanding showing against Congo-Brazzaville last month was one of the finest performances by a Black Star in many years. The midfielder netted a hat-trick—becoming the first Ghanaian to do so in international colours since 2014—and demonstrated his prowess in a more advanced role. He’s been playing more regularly at Atletico Madrid this season, and must be the cornerstone of the Ghana side as they look to rebuild for the 2019 Nations Cup.
Richmond Boakye: Asamoah Gyan is currently 31, and will be 33 by the time the Afcon rolls around. He’s not finished—not by any stretch—but injuries have taken their toll, and he’s no long-term solution to lead the line for the Black Stars. Instead, Boakye—recalled to the side by Appiah—could be the man to take Ghana forward. He’s finally beginning to realise his potential at Red Star Belgrade—he has eight in 10 in the Europa League this season—and offers a more physical dimension up top.
Christian Atsu: While Atsu’s output with Ghana can be somewhat underwhelming, he’s consistently excelled at the Afcon, and is beginning to find his feet in the Premier League with Newcastle United. He offers a touch of class in the final third that few African teams can match, and still only 25, he ought to have his best years ahead of him. Rafael Benitez clearly has faith in the former Chelsea man, and he should continue to improve under the Spaniard’s tutelage.
Daniel Opare: One of the brightest subplots to the last international window was the return of Opare, who made his first appearance for the Black Stars since the 2014 World Cup. The former Real Madrid defender has endured a barren few seasons due to injury, but has started the season strongly at Augsburg and is showing the defensive qualities that made him such a sought-after talent earlier in his career. His versatility, dynamism and crossing ability should make him a key man for the Black Stars and an able long-term replacement for Harrison Afful—if he stays fit!
Daniel Amartey: The centre-back was outstanding against Uganda, protecting Richard Ofori’s goal against all threats—ground-based and aerial. Most impressive, however, were the defender’s leadership, decision-making and influence. Perhaps things aren’t completely going his way at Leicester City, but 22-year-old Amartey ought to be the future of Ghana’s defence for a decade to come.