Predicting the Ghana Squad 40 Days from the 2014 World Cup
Ghana boss Kwesi Appiah has only 10 days before he needs to name his 30-man preliminary World Cup squad. Seven of those players will be cut out of the side over the following month before the Black Stars are left with the 23 players who will travel to Brazil to contest the tournament.
The situation with the Black Stars and their squad dynamic is unique among the 32 teams who will compete this summer.
Ahead of the CAF Qualifying play-off with Egypt, a number of high profile players decided to return to the national side having previously turned their back on the Black Stars. Appiah can hardly turn his back on quality or experienced players such as Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Andre and Jordan Ayew, and so the uncommitted quartet have been drafted back into the side at the expense of some of those players who have remained loyal to the West Africans.
However, it remains to be seen how squad unity and morale will be affected as.
The uncertainty created by this raft of returnees naturally means that there is some ambiguity surrounding the make-up of Appiah’s World Cup 23. This article attempts to second guess the coach and predict the players that will represent Ghana in Brazil.
Goalkeeper: Fatau Dauda
Inactivity at club level, with South African side Orlando Pirates, is threatening to cost Fatau Dauda his place as Ghanaian Number One.
Black Stars coach Kwesi Appiah has not been slow to notify the stopper of his concern at his limited playing time, and he dropped him from the squad for the recent friendly against Montenegro.
Putting that move into context, it is almost two years since he was last missing from a Ghana squad—he has been an ever-present since 9 June 2012.
His experience as the side’s first-choice keeper throughout 2013 should mean he travels to Brazil, but will Appiah have the faith to start him?
Goalkeepers: Adam Kwarasey & Stephen Adams
Dauda’s struggles on the Cape have opened the door to Adam Kwarasey. The Norway-born goalkeeper was formerly the national team’s first-choice 'keeper, but lost his place soon after the 2012 Cup of Nations.
Kwarasey was reinstalled as first choice for the recent friendly against Montenegro and looks well placed to take the starting berth in Brazil, should he impress in the pre-tournament friendlies.
Speaking to Dagbladet, the Stromsgodset stopper has backed himself to stop Cristiano Ronaldo when the Black Stars meet Portugal in Group G.
A few keepers are in contention for the third goalkeeper spot.
Daniel Agyei has been a squad regular for the last 18 months, but missed out on both the first play-off against Egypt and the recent friendly against Montenegro.
Richard Kingson made the squad for the first leg against Egypt, but the veteran represents an outside bet for the tournament.
Brimah Razak is another option. He was been in fine form for Cordoba and started a recent match against Japan.
The safe bet, however, is perhaps Stephen Adams, who impressed for the Black Stars during the recent African Nations Championship—where he conceded only one goal all tournament—as Ghana strode to the title. He was rewarded with a return to the senior squad for the Montenegro friendly.
Defender: John Boye
John Boye has been Ghana’s first-choice centre-back since the 2012 Cup of Nations and has consistently taken up one of the two central defensive berths during the reign of Kwesi Appiah.
A thigh injury threatened to derail his World Cup plans and Boye didn’t play for Rennes from August 2013 until February 2014.
He has steadily returned to prominence at the Ligue 1 side, and while Jerry Akaminko and Jonathan Mensah impressed during his absence, Boye was reinstalled into the starting line-up for the recent friendly against Montenegro.
Kwesi Appiah will be delighted to have the three fine centre-backs at his disposal.
Defender: Jerry Akaminko
Centre-back Jerry Akaminko has been the main beneficiary from John Boye’s injury and hasn’t disappointed when given the chance to stake his claim for a starting berth.
The Eskisehirspor defender started the first game of the Cup of Nations in early 2013 against the Democratic Republic of Congo alongside Boye, but then didn’t feature for the national side until the play-off first leg against Egpyt in October 2013.
He may just be achieving prominence at the right time, however, as he played 90 minutes in both matches against the Pharaohs and also featured for the entirety against Montenegro.
Defender: Daniel Opare
Once of Real Madrid, Daniel Opare’s career began strongly, threatened to stagnate and then steadily began to look up.
The defender was part of Ghana’s Golden Generation of Black Eaglets who won the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009. Like many of that vintage, he made his national team debut early—being called up by Claude Le Roy for an international friendly when only 17.
Things didn’t work out for him at Real Madrid, and after being called up for the Black Stars at the 2012 Cup of Nations Opare was jettisoned from the squad.
He has gently returned to prominence with Standard Liege in Belgium, and having been recalled to the national side for a friendly against Turkey in 2013 has entrenched himself within the side.
The right-back has featured in Ghana’s last six games and has started four of them.
Defender: Harrison Afful
Harrison Afful is an underrated performer who has become a key figure for the Black Stars since his international debut in 2008.
His main strength is his versatility; nominally a right-back, Afful made his Ghana debut as a left-back and has readily filled this “problem position” for the Black Stars over the last few years. He is also competent further forward, on either flank, as a wing-back or midfielder, and has, on occasion, played in the centre of the park.
His energy and selfless approach to the game make him an ideal tournament performer and a superb squad member for Kwesi Appiah. He has started all but two of Ghana’s last 14 games.
Defender: Samuel Inkoom
Inkoom is a divisive figure among Black Stars fans. Many believe that he should be the side’s first-choice right-back, while others believe that his time in the national side has been and gone.
It’s not totally clear where Kwesi Appiah stands on the player, but it might just be that Inkoom is finding his way again at just the right time.
Having missed out on the Cup of Nations, Inkoom was recalled for the away qualifier against Sudan in June 2013.
He hasn’t missed a call-up since, and he has played in six of the eight subsequent matches, including a start in the first play-off against Egypt.
The key to his revival has been a loan move to Greek side Platanias, having escaped Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, the right-back is once again enjoying his football.
Defender: Jonathan Mensah
Due to his greater international experience, one would expect Jonathan Mensah to be just ahead of Jerry Akaminko in the line-up should one of the pair be replaced by the returning John Boye. The Turkish-based defender has started the last three games, however, while Jonathan has not featured.
Despite being only 23, Jonathan is a veteran of the AFCON squads of 2010, 2012 and 2013—he was even selected for the Black Stars squad at the last World Cup.
In South Africa, he profited from an injury to starting centre-back Isaac Vorsah and partnered his namesake John for three of Ghana’s five fixtures.
Defender: Rashid Sumaila
If Kwesi Appiah chooses to take a fourth specialist centre-back—as most national team managers will choose to do this summer—then it’s likely to be a straight tussle between Rashid Sumaila and Isaac Vorsah.
The latter has the experience, specifically, of playing in a World Cup quarter-final, but judging on recent showings, it may be Sumaila who gets the nod for Brazil. Vorsah has endured a long stint on the sidelines, having torn an anterior cruciate ligament in May 2013 and remains an outside bet to return to the fold for the World Cup.
The Mamelodi Sundowns centre-back, therefore, started both play-off matches against Egypt, and also featured in four of the five previous matches.
He is perhaps unlikely to add to his international caps at the World Cup, but don’t be surprised to see Sumaila make the plane at Vorsah’s expense.
Defender: Jeffrey Schlupp
The majority of the names included in this forecasted Ghana squad are safe bets who are largely guaranteed of their spot in Ghana’s preliminary 30, if not the 23 beyond that.
One exception, however, is Jeffrey Schlupp, who I have included at the expense of someone like Richmond Boakye.
Schlupp has only made one appearance for the Black Stars, back in 2011, but following his excellent season with Leicester City, who have won promotion to the Barclays Premier League, calls have increased for his inclusion.
Schlupp would provide an option at left-back—currently the weakest area of the squad—and allow Kwadwo Asamoah to move inside to a position where he would have more influence.
The Hamburg-born player was a striker earlier in his career, and he would offer an auxiliary attacking threat down the left side.
Midfielder: Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu
Agyemang-Badu is unlikely to start in Brazil this summer, but he will likely provide an energetic and mobile riposte to some of the older, more sluggish players in the squad.
The Udinese man is a dynamic midfielder who loves nothing more than to nick the ball off an opposition with a crunching tackle, before driving forward through the heart of the park.
His development perhaps hasn’t progressed as quickly as many had hoped when he burst onto the scene as part of Ghana’s U-20 World Cup victory back in 2009.
Despite making just two international starts since the AFCON, he has only missed one call-up and will almost certainly travel to Brazil.
He is a more dynamic option than Mohammed Rabiu and offers more offensively than Anthony Annan.
Midfielder: Kwadwo Asamoah
Apart from Yaya Toure, it’s hard to find any African midfielder who offers more than Kwadwo Asamoah. Juventus fans might even argue that the Ghanaian brings a more diverse range of talents to the table.
Asa is the complete package. He can tackle, he can pass, he can dribble, he can finish—he can do the lot. Few players in the world game can thrive at left-back or as a defensive midfielder, but also score a goal of the kind of exquisite quality that Asamoah did against Fiorentina recently.
He will be a key figure for Ghana, but questions do remain about whether he will be afforded a creative role in the middle of the pitch or if the presence of other, less versatile players, will mean that he’s shunted out to the left flank.
Midfielder: Michael Essien
The Bison isn’t the player he used to be.
The muscular approach remains, but in a much more fragile guise, while the energy is tempered by age and the ravages of a series of devastating injuries.
Nonetheless, since returning from the international wilderness, Essien took a starting berth and played a starring role in the Black Stars’ 6-1 first leg play-off victory over Egypt.
It’s unlikely that Appiah will opt for a 4-4-2 and a midfield pairing of Essien and Sulley Muntari in Brazil, given the likes of Portugal and Germany would overrun the ageing duo.
The former Chelsea man could, however, still prosper in a deeper role in a three or five-man midfield.
Midfielder: Sulley Muntari
The experienced Sulley Muntari missed the Cup of Nations at the beginning of 2013, but returned following the tournament to take up a key role in the Black Stars side once more.
He scored in the World Cup Qualifying Group Stage match against Sudan and found the net from the penalty spot against Egypt in the first leg of the qualifying play-off.
At 29, the former Champions League winner is in his prime, and he will be keen to enjoy a strong tournament.
He scored a wonderful long-range goal in the quarter-final battle with Uruguay in the 2010 event.
Midfielder: Wakaso Mubarak
He may not be one of Ghana’s illustrious names, but Wakaso Mubarak became a key member of the national side during 2013 having only made his debut in 2012.
The left-sided midfielder impressed at the 2013 AFCON where he proved himself to be a big-game player capable of thriving under pressure.
He appears to have begun to recover from the devastating loss of his infant son earlier in the year and has matured a great deal after some troubled early moments in his career.
The returning superstars pushed him out of the first team for the play-offs against Egypt, but Wakaso could still have an important role to play in Brazil.
Midfielder: Albert Adomah
Despite not playing in one of Europe’s elite leagues, Albert Adomah has become a regular squad member for Ghana.
He’s only started two of the last eleven internationals, but he hasn’t been out of the squad since the summer of 2012 and represents a safe bet to make the World Cup 23.
The right winger has also played at right wing-back for Middlesbrough earlier in the season and this may be an intriguing option for Kwesi Appiah to consider over the coming weeks.
Midfielder: Kevin-Prince Boateng
Kevin-Prince Boateng is another who, quite predictably, has returned to the national team once the prospect of playing at the World Cup was been dangled before him.
Remarkably, despite making his debut in 2010, the former Tottenham Hotspur player is yet to make a dozen international appearances, due to his extensive periods away from the national side.
Still, his talent and the contributions he makes through the heart of the midfield should ensure that he is involved in Kwesi Appiah’s 23 for the Brazil World Cup.
Unlike some of the other returning heroes, Prince has had to content himself with a place on the bench for Ghana in their last two fixtures and despite scoring against Egypt might not automatically receive a starting berth.
Midfielder: Andre Ayew
The 24-year-old Ayew is another veteran of the last World Cup, although it’s fair to say that the playmaker’s career hasn’t quite taken on the trajectory that some had anticipated.
Admittedly, he remains in influential figure at Marseille, and has been earmarked as a future club captain, but his truly excellent performances remain few and far between.
Recently, for l'OM, he scored a hat-trick and delivered a man of the match performance against Ajaccio—the kind of outing that meant that Kwesi Appiah couldn’t resist but throw Ayew back into the Ghana starting XI when he ended his self-imposed international exile.
Forward: Asamoah Gyan
The Black Stars’ all-time leading goalscorer will head to Brazil in a rich vein of form. Having recently hit his 100th goal in the United Arab Emirati league, the West African is currently the division’s top scorer.
He has had his difficulties with Ghana in the past—not least a litany of missed penalties—but he was the side’s outstanding individual at the last World Cup and will be keen to repeat his heroics this summer.
Ghana fans will look to their talismanic forward and national skipper to repeat his sublime performances of 2010—not least his match-winning showing against the USA in the round of 16—and they’ll certainly need some inspiration to escape from a group containing Germany, Portugal and the States.
Forward: Majeed Waris
Few strikers across Europe’s major leagues have been in such hot form as Majeed Waris since the beginning of 2014.
The Ghana hitman struggled to establish himself at Spartak Moscow but, like some others on this list, he was revitalised after a loan move away.
Waris’s destination was Valenciennes, in Northern France, where, after his arrival, the Black Star has almost single-handedly spearheaded VAFC’s quest to stay in the division.
Ultimately, the Atheniens may fall short, but even if they drop into Ligue 2, Waris, with nine goals, three assists and three man of the match showings has done wonders for his reputation.
Forward/Midfielder: Christian Atsu
Despite not always being a starter for the Black Stars, Christian Atsu is an important figure for the national side. Amidst the squad’s abundance of well-rounded central midfielders, Atsu is a direct and speedy option who can be a valuable asset, in central or wide positions, in any kind of context.
In matches where Ghana are dominating, Atsu’s clever and quick movement can help to unsettle a massed defence. When the Black Stars are under the cosh, Atsu’s pace from the flank can be a devastating counter-attacking option.
He has missed only one match in both 2013 and 2014.
Forward: Jordan Ayew
Like his brother Andre, Jordan Ayew underwent a self-imposed exile from the national side during the large part of 2013, but has returned to contention in time for the 2014 World Cup.
For the pair of play-offs against Egypt, Ayew was reinstalled to the bench, but didn’t make an appearance in either bout—it may well be a window into his summer. Ayew is talented and versatile enough to make the squad, but perhaps doesn’t offer enough to break into the first team.
A start in the friendly against Montenegro suggests that Appiah may think differently.
At club level, things have improved for Ayew since his loan move to Sochaux in January. Having begun to stagnate at Marseille, the switch to Montbeliard seems to have revitalised the forward, who has scored three times since the beginning of 2014.