Ghana: Key Players to Watch at 2013 Africa Cup of Nations

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2013

Ghana: Key Players to Watch at 2013 Africa Cup of Nations

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    The Africa Cup of Nations 2013 gets underway in South Africa on Saturday, with Ghana one of the biggest favourites for success even though they have not won the competition since 1982.

    There was plenty of speculation over the final squad until it was named last week, with players such as John Mensah, Andre Ayew and Michael Essien all missing out for various reasons.

    Essien, in fact, had requested not to be included, while Ayew was excluded after having missed a meet-up with his national team to assess an injury.

    AC Milan attacking midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng is also, of course, not included in the squad, having retired from international duty in 2011.

    Ghana did, however, have plenty of top players and potential stars to name in their squad, which will compete in Group B alongside Congo DR, Mali and Niger.

    Here are some of the key names of the squad to watch out for.

The Maverick: Asamoah Gyan

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    For non-followers of Arabian football, there might be questions marks surrounding the form and application of striker Asamoah Gyan.

    Now aged 27, the No. 3 left Sunderland in the Premier League early in the 2011-12 season to join Al-Ain on loan, who he later joined permanently.

    Having made a good impact in the top flight in England, Gyan was criticised in some quarters for moving to a far weaker league in exchange for a far bigger contract, though he had scored 43 goals in his first 35 league games after moving to the UAE—that should keep his confidence up, at least.

    Gyan is direct, skilful and has no shortage of acceleration, and his commitment to the national team has rarely been in question—even if he has said that he won't be taking any more penalties for them.


    Stats from

The Experienced Campaigner: John Paintsil

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    Ghana's most experienced player in the squad is full-back John Paintsil.

    The right-back is now playing his club football in Israel with Hapoel Tel-Aviv, having previously figured for Fulham, West Ham United and Maccabi Tel-Aviv, as well as a previous stint with his current club.

    Paintsil (known as Pantsil during his time in England) has accumulated over 80 caps for Ghana during his career and now, aged 31, is comfortably the oldest player in the entire squad. He will be looked at to provide inspiration and leadership, as well as a cool head for the younger players if things aren't going Ghana's way.

    He might not be the most spectacular name in the squad, but if the Black Stars are going to go all the way in South Africa, their more experienced players will have a big part to play.

The Champion-Elect: Kwadwo Asamoah

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    At least one of the Ghana squad appear to be heading for trophy glory during 2013, with midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah playing a starring role for Juventus as they lead Italy's Serie A and head for another title.

    B/R's tactical analyst Sam Tighe gives us the lowdown on Asamoah:

    Kwadwo Asamoah has come a long way in a short space of time, and he's a fully developed player going into this tournament.

    Unfortunately for him, he might just become the ultimate victim of his own incredible versatility, as in the buildup to this event he's cameo'd at left-back for the Black Stars. That's the role he's been fulfilling for Juventus this season, and he must be bursting at the seams to play the attacking midfield role he aced at Udinese.

    Look for Asamoah to explode if he's given a chance centrally.

    Head coach James Kwesi Appiah needs to figure out quickly if it's going to benefit Ghana more playing Asamoah in the role where he's best, or in the role where he best fits the team.

The Young Guns: Richmond Boakye and Christian Atsu

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    A couple of youngsters now and players who might not figure in many of Ghana's matches, but who could have a real impact on games off the bench if handed the chance.

    Richmond Boakye is a teenage striker who is co-owned by Genoa and Juventus, and plays on loan from the latter at Sassuolo in Serie B.

    He scored 12 times in the league last season with the same team and has added a further nine this year. Untested at the highest levels, perhaps, but the tall Boakye already has two goals for the full Ghana team, including one on his debut against China.

    Boakye turns 20 on the day Ghana play their final group stage match against Niger—what an amazing birthday it could turn out to be if he gets the opportunity to add another goal for his country.

    Christian Atsu plays his football in Portugal with FC Porto.

    A current member of their first-team squad, Atsu figures mainly from the bench but has played 10 times in the Liga Sagres and six times in the Champions League this season, claiming four assists in all competitions.

    He is a livewire wide forward, playing primarily from the left, and is comfortable either cutting infield or keeping the width of the pitch. At 21 years of age he is the second-youngest squad member after Boakye.

    Either player is a potential game-changer for the Black Stars, even if their main participation at this ACN might be in gaining experience from the sidelines.

The Enforcer: Anthony Annan

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    The final one to watch is central midfield destroyer Anthony Annan.

    A tough competitor who never shirks a tackle, Annan is now playing for Spanish side Osasuna on loan from Schalke in Germany. As well as being a strong defensive midfielder, Annan is capable on the ball and can burst forward quickly from deep midfield positions. He possesses a fierce shot from range but infrequently gets on the scoresheet.

    He joined the Bundlesliga side in 2011, after an impressive showing in the previous year's FIFA World Cup, but was unable to hold down a regular place after moving from Norway.

    After spending last season with Vitesse in Holland, Annan's current loan club are struggling at the foot of La Liga in Spain this term—and Annan has not played for them since late October in league games. In an interview with Europapress (in Spanish) he stated he was happy with being at the club, but Ghana will need him to be fit and in form to steady their midfield.

    How he fares in the centre of the pitch, possibly alongside Kwadwo Asamoah, might dictate how far Ghana can go in this year's edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.