Besmirched, maligned but can the Black Stars shine in Qatar against the odds?

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The Black Stars of Ghana have in the recent past come under several criticisms for their poor showing in continental and international matches. Several football pundits have maligned the team. Most Ghanaians have lost hope and given up on the team. There’s little but no expectation for the team to perform well in Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.

 

In fact, some critics have argued that team participation in the World Cup is going to be a waste of state funds as they won’t make it past the group stage of the competition. If you ask five random Ghanaians about the prospects of the Black Stars in Qatar, almost all five will express uncertainty and hopelessness about the team.

 

It’s an open secret that Ghanaians no longer trust the Black Stars. But with hopes dashed, chances slimmed and faith remaining low, can the Stars shine in the darkness of Qatar?

 

The Prospects of Ghana in Qatar

 

On the 24th of November, 2022, the Black Stars of Ghana will take on Portugal in their first group game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The match will mark Ghana’s fourth participation in Football’s most iconic tournament and the first since 2014.

 

The Black Stars will enter the tournament as the underdogs among the 32 participating teams per several ratings by sports rating agencies. In fact, the Stars’ chances of winning the 2022 World Cup have been pegged at 0.23% by Opta Analyst. This means the possibilities are as slim as a tortoise winning a race with a cheetah and pronghorn.

 

Realistically, the Black Stars are not favorites to win the world cup and Ghanaians don’t expect them to. However, Ghana will look forward to making a big statement in Qatar and cementing its name in the record books. Reaching either the quarter or semi-finals will be a significant achievement for the team.

 

Is this the first time the odds will be against Ghana in the World Cup? Of course not. In Germany 2006, Ghana was paired against the second-ranked, Czech Republic, 13th-ranked Italy, and 16th-ranked USA but the debutant Ghana shooked the world and placed second ahead of Czech Republic to qualify out of the group stage. The group stage glory was though short-lived as star-studded Brazil kicked Ghana out of the tournament in the round of 16.

 

In 2010 also, the Black Stars was among the lowest-ranked team to make strides in the tournament but shooked the world once again with one of the outstanding performances in the 2010 World Cup to reach the last 8. But for the unlucky last-minute penalty miss against Uruguay, Ghana will have progressed to the semi-finals as the first-ever African nation to achieve that feat.

 

Ghana however failed to go past the group stage of the competition in their last outing in 2014 placing fourth in a group with Germany, Portugal, and the USA. This setback was followed by the failure of the team to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and subsequent disappointments in the 2019 and 2021 African Cup of Nations.

 

The team despite the recent failures has fought its way back to the top and will be one of the five African countries to represent the continent in Qatar coming November 20th to December 18th, 2022. But the question remains, can the 26-man squad as called by coach Otto Addo progress Ghana beyond the group stage and make it to the quarter-finals or this will be another World Cup to forget of?

 

Ghana will face South Korea in Group H on November 28th after taking on Portugal in the first match and round up the group stage matches on Friday, December 2, 2022, against rivals Uruguay. The Black Stars will be looking to unleash two revenge on Portugal for the 2014 defeat in Brazil and Uruguay for the painful knockout exit in South Africa 2010.

 

This however will not come easy as both teams are ranked above Ghana and with equally good and outstanding players. Portugal comes into the tournament as one of the favorites to win the trophy and Uruguay with a mix of old experienced players and young vibrant players are a powerhouse to reckon with. South Korea may be the only team at par with Ghana but it won’t come easy to beat them.

 

Portugal’s squad ranks among one of the best squads ahead of the World Cup and with the experienced of Fernando Santos who has coached the team since 2014, they look close to claiming their first-ever World Cup trophy. The Portuguese will be playing their heart out for Cristiano Ronaldo to win his first World Cup before retiring. The 37-year-old Ronaldo will want to cement his name as arguably the best player ever by adding football’s most iconic trophy to his cabinet having won it all across all competitions.

 

Uruguay will also present another very good squad in Qatar with a blend of old and new players who are consistently playing at the top level in Europe. They are two-time winners of the FIFA World Cup and under a new manager in Diego Alonso, the team looks poised to pull a surprise in Qatar.

 

South Korea may not be a tough opponent but with their talismans Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspurs, Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Lee Kang-in of Mallorca, they wouldn’t come easy.

 

The Black Stars in their recent friendly against Switzerland have shown improvement in several areas and crowned it with a 2-0 win. The match gave Ghanaians a bit of hope despite the pessimism. With the same technical discipline as shown in the friendly against Switzerland, Ghana may be able to make something out of the group.

 

Black Stars Squad: Strengths and Weaknesses

 

Coach Otto Addo on Monday, November 14th released a 26-man squad as required by FIFA for the 2022 World Cup. Since his press briefing, the list of players has generated several conversations among Ghanaians with many questioning why some players were dropped.

 

Otto Addo made some additions and changes to his call-up in September for the Brazil and Nicaragua friendlies. Due to injury concerns, Jojo Wollacot, Richard Ofori, and Baba Iddrisu missed out on the final squad.

 

However, Ibrahim Danlad of Asante Kotoko and Manaf Nurudeen replaced the injured two goalkeepers. Mohammed Salisu maintained his position in the squad, and Daniel Afriyie Barnieh of Accra Hearts of Oak also received a call-up. Kamal Sowah of Club Brugge and Lens’ Salis Samed received their debut call-up to the Black Stars. The big misses were, however Joseph Paintsil of Genk and Jefferey Schlupp of Crystal Palace

 

Full Squad

 

GOALKEEPERS: Lawrence Ati-Zigi (St. Gallen), Ibrahim Danlad (Asante Kotoko), Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (Eupen)

 

DEFENDERS: Joseph Aidoo (Celta Vigo), Daniel Amartey (Leicester), Abdul-Rahman Baba (Reading), Alexander Djiku (Strasbourg), Tariq Lamptey (Brighton), Gideon Mensah (Bordeaux), Denis Odoi (Club Brugge), Mohammed Salisu (Southampton), Alidu Seidu (Clermont)

 

MIDFIELDERS: André Ayew (Al Saad), Daniel Afriyie Barnieh (Hearts of Oak), Mohammed Kudus (Ajax), Daniel-Kofi Kyereh (St Pauli), Elisha Owusu (Gent), Thomas Partey (Arsenal), Salis Abdul Samed (Lens)

 

FORWARDS: Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace), Osman Bukari (Red Star Belgrade), Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Sporting CP), Antoine Semenyo (Bristol City), Kamal Sowah (Club Brugge), Kamaldeen Sulemana (Rennes), Inaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao).

 

The 26-man squad presents Ghana with a lot of dynamics and options at every position. Like many have said, it’s hard to choose a starting eleven from the crop of players available. This is mainly because there are few standout players in the squad and the rest are on par with each other. So selecting a starting line-up will be subjectively base on the opponents and the preferred formation and tactics of the coach.

 

Ghana’s squad will for the fourth time be the youngest squad presented by a nation for the World Cup. Ghana presented similar young squads in her last three outings in the World Cup. The average age of the squad is 24.7 years making it the youngest in this year’s World Cup.

 

These dynamics show that the team lacks experience as only two players (Andre Dede Ayew and Jordan Ayew) from the current squad have been to the World Cup before. The lack of experience in the squad is very evident in the team as not more than half of the team have made 10 appearances for the Black Stars. This can be a worry for the team as sometimes experience will be required to win or see some matches through. The technical handlers must be worried about this. Otto Addo however seems to trust these young players to get the job done.

 

Another area of concern is the attacking return of the team. The lack of top goal-scoring strikers and attackers in the team can be huge a problem in Qatar. Black Stars ever since Asamoah Gyan’s departure have struggled to get his replacement and the sooner Otto Addo and the technical handlers discover how the team can score more goals even without a top No.9 the better chances of the team progressing in the World Cup.

 

Inaki Williams can be the antidote to the striking concerns but he’s yet to find his feet in the team. The team can, however, rely on the striking prowess of the midfielders as it has always in the past but making Inaki Williams find his striking feet will be a major addition to the team.

 

Perhaps the greatest weak point of the team is the goalkeeping department. With injuries to first and second-choice goalkeepers, Otto Addo must be having a headache on who to trust the poles with. Lawrence Ati Zigi has made a few appearances for the Black Stars but has never been impressive.

 

Manaf Nurudeen has also kept the poles in a few matches for Ghana and with nothing of statement performance. Danlad Ibrahim has been impressive for Kotoko and the Black Galaxies but has never kept for the Black Stars and perhaps the World Cup is too big a stage to throw the young lad onto the field.

 

So who should Otto Addo trust to keep the poles? On Club form, Ati Zigi has been impressive for his team in the Swiss league but can’t seem to replicate the same performances with the Black Stars. Manaf’s inconsistencies can’t also be trusted. Ghanaians’ only hope will be that Ati Zigi’s clean sheet against Switzerland will be a confidence booster ahead of the World Cup.

 

In spite of all these lapses, Ghana seems to have found a stable defensive setup. The addition of Mohammed Salisu to Amartey, Djiku, and Joseph Aidoo has given them more strength at the back. Tarique Lamptey has also given assurance to the right-back position together with Denis Odoi of Club Brugge. At the left-back, Gideon Mensah has proven to be very good when given the opportunity to play. He covers the inefficiencies of Baba Rahman who sometimes wobbles.

 

Another area the Stars can make the most out of is the midfield. With Thomas Partey and Kudus Mohammed on excellent form, together with French League 1 discovery, Salis Samed and, Kofi Kyereh of Freiburg the Stars should be comfortable in the middle and dictate games from there.

 

Otto Addo needs to find the best combination of the midfield that will help the team control games. The Midfield looks like the surest way Ghana can make something out of the World Cup. They just need to discover how they want to play and find the combination of players that suit their style.

 

With the little glimpses of good football against Switzerland in the friendly, the Black Star with improvements in certain areas will be a force in the World Cup. With the squad available, if Otto Addo is able to deploy his men well and they remain disciplined and tactical, the Black Stars can make strides and not just add to numbers in Qatar.

 

Based on recent form and squad depth one will be tempted to toe the line of most football pundits and not give the Black Stars a glimpse of a chance in Qatar. But tournaments have proven over and over again that it’s not the team with the big names and squad that triumph well.

 

It is a complex mixture of several factors that makes a team perform well on the world’s biggest stage. It takes a team with technical prowess, good euphoria around it, a good squad, and a bit of luck to progress well in tournaments. If the managers of the Black Stars and the technical handlers can blend these factors well, then Ghana may have a great World Cup on her hands.

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