Ghana haven’t won in five matches against winnable opposition, which has put pressure on their head coach Avram Grant. There have been rumours of the Ghana Football Association meeting to discuss his future, though his hefty contract seems to have left the two parties anchored to each other, at least until the end of the tournament.
It’s a huge contrast in comparison to February 2015, when he was being praised for getting the Black Stars to the final after only being with the team for a month.
Placed in arguably the easiest qualifying group, Ghana qualified comfortably but didn’t look impressive at all – their sheer quality was enough to overcome their opponents. After being credited with turning around the team’s fortunes before the last tournament in very little time, the side don’t look better drilled than they did two years ago, even though Grant has had more time with the team.
Asamoah Gyan, the Black Stars’ all-time leading goal-scorer, has had fitness concerns and only just recently turned for Al Ahli. He’s unlikely to have full match sharpness to cope with the busy AFCON schedule, which is not good for Ghana as they are heavily reliant on the 31-year-old.
Assuming all available players are fit, Ghana should set up in a 4-4-2. Razak Brimah is the man in between the posts. Abdul Baba Rahman, Daniel Amartey, Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful will make up the back four. Though Afriyie Acquah has partnered Mubarak Wakaso in midfield for most games, Thomas Partey started in Ghana’s last game against Egypt, so he’s a good bet to start against Uganda. Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu will play on the left and right flank, respectively, with Gyan and Jordan Ayew forming a strike pair.
Wakaso, normally a winger at Panathinaikos, becomes a deep-lying playmaker for the Black Stars. Taking a speedy, sometimes erratic, winger who is yellow card machine and putting him in front of a fragile defence is a peculiar decision but Grant will almost certainly utilise him there. Andre Ayew will roam inside and look to attack balls that come in from the right wing in the box. In Jordan Ayew and Gyan, Ghana have two target men who like to do the same thing, meaning the side is somewhat disjointed. The team will rely on individual brilliance.
Experience – Ghana have a fairly settled and experienced squad headed by Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew. Gyan, Andre Ayew, and Christian Atsu have all produced special moments in key games over the years. Wakaso and Jordan Ayew can also chip in with goals. In Samuel Tetteh and Frank Acheampong there’s pace in abundance on the bench if needed.
Unclear strategy – There is no real defensive strategy. There is little evidence of an organised pressing system and when the team are forced to sit deep they are extremely reactive. Against a below average Russia side in a recent friendly, they were opened up time and time again on the counter attack and then set in a deep block. This may not be an issue in the group stages but if they get past the round robin, they may have issues against better sides. There’s also minimal creativity in the middle. Wakaso isn’t really a playmaker and Jordan Ayew isn’t suited to his shadow striker role in the team.
Asamoah Gyan – The Al-Ahli man is the main source of goals in this team. As he’s aged he has become less of an all-action player and more of a fox in the box. Ghana can struggle to move the ball forward intelligently and will look to play him in behind early or ask him to hold the ball up and wait for onrushing support.
The Hipster’s Choice
Thomas Partey – Bar injured Sassuolo midfielder Alfred Duncan, Partey is the best midfielder with his ball at his feet in Kwadwo Asamoah’s absence. The 23-year-old has only made four appearances from the bench for a strong Atletico Madrid side this season, but he offers the composure in midfield that Ghana lack.
Avram Grant – After a good start to his Ghana career, Avram Grant is under pressure. He’s only lost two competitive games in charge of the Black Stars but for a man on his salary you expect some actual progression. His contract runs out after the tournament and as the man appears to be perpetually lucky, don’t be surprised if it ends with triumph.
By The Numbers (courtesy of We Global Football)
Times have been tough for Ghana, with only 2 wins from 7 matches in 2016, including winless in their last 5.
Only 2016 wins came against Mozambique and Mauritius.
Ghana is still projected to finish first in Group D on 5.18 points. However, it must be said that the 40.28% chance of topping the group is the smallest chance of any projected group winner.
Familiarity breeds contempt as Ghana is also in the same World Cup Qualifying group with Egypt and Uganda.
Ghana managed just 1 point and 0 goals in their two matches against Uganda and Egypt last year.
Overall Ghana has a 10% chance of reclaiming African glory, good enough for 5th best in the field.
Semi-finalists – Although they can look disjointed, Ghana are an experienced team with players who turn up in big moments – they are likely to face no stand-out team until the semi-final stage.
By Theo Sakyi