How Ghana can be expected to play at the Africa Cup of Nations and their likely starting XI.
Ghana coach Avram Grant’s reign started better than anyone had expected as, despite the illness and injury concerns affecting Asamoah Gyan, the Black Stars unexpectedly reached the final of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
Despite Andre Ayew’s tears, there was no ignominy in the narrow penalty shootout defeat by Cote d’Ivoire, while the 3-0 dissection of Equatorial Guinea in the semi-final offered promise that Grant was in the process of crafting an attractive squad that could end the West Africans’ 35-year wait for the continental crown.
Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out that way in the intervening years, and there’s little expectation back home that this will be the year where the Stars can end their semi-final/final hoodoo, despite the undoubted quality of the side.
In his defence, Grant could certainly point to injuries suffered by key men and a lack of playing time at club level endured by others as reasons for the Stars’ struggles.
Striker Kwesi Appiah, for example, hasn’t played for the national side since early 2015 after enduring a few injury-hit years, while Ayew and Gyan have also been unavailable to the coach for long spells.
Similarly, Christian Atsu’s toils at club level – admittedly improving somewhat at Newcastle United recently – have affected another one of the side’s attacking talents, and the same could be said for Abdul Rahman Baba.
Relegations suffered by John Boye and Jordan Ayew haven’t been ideal for two other key men, and, looking at the trip to Gabon, valuable squad players such as Waris Majeed, David Accam and Jeffrey Schlupp are absent for various reasons, further reducing the coach’s options.
In goal, Grant will stick with Razak Brimah, having largely kept faith with the Cordoba man despite the return to contention of Adam Kwarasey. With the latter absent due to a minor back injury, former No 1 Fatau Dauda has made an unlikely comeback, but the Israeli coach is unlikely to deviate away from his established first-choice stopper.
In Schlupp’s absence, Baba will take the left-back berth unopposed, and while he’s coming off the back of a tricky 18 months at Chelsea and Schalke, he has the potential to be the tournament’s outstanding full-back.
On the opposite flank, the energetic and intelligent Harrison Afful will continue in his role, with Grant – despite the recent inclusion of Andy Yiadom of Barnsley – having failed to identify a viable rival for the Columbus Crew stopper.
Assuming Grant doesn’t revert to the three-at-the-back approach he trialled at the last Afcon, the centre-back duo will be two out of Jonathan Mensah, Daniel Amartey and the aforementioned Boye. The Leicester City man has broken up the established pairing in recent matches – starting four of the last five – but Grant may well choose to stick to the tried and tested.
Edwin Gyimah travels as central defensive cover.
Moving up the pitch, Grant will turn to Dede and Atsu to offer threat from wide areas, with the central midfield likely to be stalwart Wakaso Mubarak and one of Afriyie Acquah and Thomas Partey.
Wakaso, while not the most refined player, is a driving presence through the heart of the park, a threat from set pieces, and has rewarded Grant’s faith after the former Chelsea boss established him as a starter in the centre.
The powerful Partey could be added to the mix for the game against Egypt, although Grant will be hoping from Acquah, who’s having a difficult season at Torino, but whose skill set makes him a valuable asset.
Uncapped Ebenezer Ofori intriguingly gets the nod as the backup defensive midfielder ahead of Enoch Kofi Adu.
Franck Acheampong is an ideal squad player who has started regularly during Ayew’s absence but appears to be resigned to the role of an impact sub.
The makeup of the attack could be decided by Gyan’s fitness. The talisman has started just three games since the final of the 2015 Nations Cup, but will surely lead the line if physically able.
Expect Jordan to start in support of Gyan, with fixtures against Mauritius and the Comoros – limited opponents admittedly – demonstrating recently just what the duo are still capable of together.
With Waris and Accam both absent – the former bizarrely overlooked considering his recent return to form – and Ghana Premier League top-scorer Latif Blessing also neglected, Grant’s backup options look remarkably lightweight.
The trio of Ebenezer Assifuah, wonder kid Bernard Tekpetey and Samuel Tetteh have one international goal between them.
By Ed Dove
@EddyDove on Twitter