The Black Stars’ hopes of reaching Russia are slim, but the Atletico Madrid midfielder’s recent form should boost morale
Even despite Ghana’s resounding 5-1 victory over Congo-Brazzaville, the mood surrounding the national team appears to be at a three-year low as the prospect of reaching the World Cup slips away.
It’s not over for the Black Stars with two qualifiers still to play, but they are four points behind Egypt, who would secure their progress if they beat the already eliminated Congolese in Alexandria in October.
Questions abound about the decision to reappoint Kwesi Appiah, the new coach’s tactical acumen, the commitment of some of the senior players and the quality of their replacements.
Something that cannot be disputed, however, is that in Thomas Partey, the Black Stars boast one of Africa’s brightest talents, and hope that the future will be brighter than the present.
Partey was one of the continent’s star men during the international break, nabbing a late equaliser in the draw in Kumasi, before contributing a hat-trick as the Red Devils were smashed 5-1
While Appiah can be criticised for various decisions made during the international break – Joseph Attamah at right-back, anyone? – his decision to give Partey a more advanced role in midfield and more influence in the heart of the park was a masterstroke.
Indeed, in netting three times in the second match, Partey became the first player since Jordan Ayew vs. South Korea in 2014 to bag an international hat-trick for the Black Stars.
There haven’t been too many more influential performances in the intervening years, and it was little surprise when CAF named him their Player of the Gameweek for Matchday 4 of the African qualifiers.
For Ghana, Partey showed of his creativity, his technique, his movement and his smart finishing—particularly for his second in the drubbing of Congo—in a role behind the strikers.
Abedi Pele he’s not, but he’ll more than do for now!
There were hopes that Partey’s performance against Congo would prompt Diego Simeone to give the powerhouse an extended run in the Atletico starting XI.
Since breaking into the Atleti team in the 2015-16 season, the 24-year-old has largely been denied a regular starting spot. He’s made 29 appearances over the last two league campaigns, but only nine outings have been from the start, and he’s managed 1064 combined minutes over the last two years—the equivalent of roughly 11 full matches!
It’s a meagre about for a player who offers so much, even though Partey has demonstrated—on occasion—his quality both offensively and defensively.
Any doubts Simeone or Atletico fans may have had about the Ghana international’s ability to cut it as a regular starter for a title-chasing side were surely extinguished this weekend, as the midfielder delivered a star display in a 0-0 draw with Valencia.
There was obviously no goal—nor a decisive contribution in the final third—but Partey, playing in the midfield two in a 4-4-2 formation, was nonetheless the outstanding player on the park.
He made a team-high five tackles and three interceptions, won four aerial battles—again more than any other Atleti player—completed one successful dribble and made two key passes.
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It was a fine all-round display, with the only thing missing an assist or a goal to secure three points for the Rojiblancos. Following on from his goalscoring display against Las Palmas the week before, there aren’t too many players in La Liga—let alone Ghanaians in world football—who are in hotter form than Partey right now.
Amidst the attention given to Jean Seri, Naby Keita and Franck Kessie—all of whom were the subjects of major transfers or transfer interest this summer—it’s become easy to forget just what an exceptional talent Atletico and Ghana have on their hands.
"[Thomas] is improving, he is full of motivation and ambition," Simeone said after Saturday's stalemate at Estadio de Mestalla. "I hope he keeps improving, he is young and works hard.”
Simeone’s side may have their work cut out to escape from a Champions League group stage that contains Chelsea, AS Roma and Qarabag—although they took a point from the Italian heavyweights away on Tuesday—but in Partey, he boasts one of the European football’s in-form players right now.
For Ghana, things may be about to get worse before they get better, but Partey at least offers hope for a brighter future.