Ghana: Approximately Interstellar
The change(s) in manager make it somewhat difficult to predict which starting XI the Black Stars will field for their opener against Senegal in Mongomo. After the pre-tournament friendlies, it appears as though the tactical approach is also open for discussion!
With such little time ahead of the tournament, however, Avram Grant has gently tweaked the squad that sealed qualification under first Kwesi Appiah, then Maxwell Konadu.
The uncertainties start in goal.
Both Fatau Dauda and Adam Kwarasey started at the World Cup, but both were jettisoned for spells during qualification as both Appiah and Konadu gave Stephen Adams a chance to impress. For the last two matches, Brimah Razak started, so the identity of the Number One is anyone’s guess, although Adams and Kwarasey are out of the running after being overlooked by Grant.
An initial (and quite major) problem for Grant to resolve.
The defence is much easier to predict. Despite the emergence of Leicester City’s Jeffrey Schlupp ahead of the World Cup, it is ultimately the impressive Abdul Baba Rahman who has replaced Kwadwo Asamoah at left back.
He and right-back Harrison Afful offer defensive acumen and attacking threat. The latter is a particularly versatile operator, but has started on the right for nine of the last ten matches.
As spotted by Grant, the two are comfortable playing further forward and facilitate a 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation.
The era of Isaac Vorsah is well and truly over, while Jerry Akaminko hasn’t featured since picking up an injury in the pre-World Cup defeat to the Netherlands and hasn’t been named in the provisional 31.
Thus, Jonathan Mensah is a guaranteed starter as one centre-back, having started there in the last ten fixtures. Alongside him, it’s a tussle between John Boye, Mohammed Awal and Daniel Amartey, although expect the first to start, even if his performances for the Black Stars were often clumsy during 2014.
Daniel Opare, once of Real Madrid, is one of five players from the World Cup squad to miss out on the Afcon provisional 31, another is Samuel Inkoom, who made the provisional 26 but not the final 23.
The side largely used a 4-4-2 during qualification, with the Mohamed Rabiu and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu each starting four matches in the middle. This pair ought to start and, despite their limitations, they offer presence and energy.
Afriyie Acquah and Edwin Gyimah are alternatives in the middle, but a combined one international start in 2014 doesn’t augur well for their starting aspirations. Enoch Kofi Adu, who I recently interviewed for Africa Football Shop, made a good impression in the Champions League with FF Malmo (despite their first-round elimination), but didn’t make the final 23.
The midfield is vitiated by the absence of Asamoah, who will miss the tournament due to injury. His potential contribution on the left ought to be covered by Andre Ayew, himself back to fitness with Olympique Marseille, but his creativity and undisputed class in the middle cannot easily be replaced.
Wakaso Mubarak, of Celtic, is a long-time substitute who, I believe, can offer more to the Black Stars than Kwesi Appiah allowed him to.
Grant made noises to suggest that he may attempt to do this by recalling disgraced World Cup pair Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari. The pair’s qualities are undisputed, but their return to the national side would, at the least, have been a gamble.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Grant—nervous at the loss of Asamoah and the taxing group draw—attempt to integrate them into the fold, although this would have threatened a repeat of the Black Stars’ World Cup debacle where team spirit evaporated when off-the-pitch problems took over.
Ultimately, he rejected this approach and left both men at home.
Another concern will be Christian Atsu’s lack of first-team football at Everton. The first-choice right winger has made scant impact on Merseyside since leaving Chelsea on loan and his performances with the Black Stars have suffered.
Konadu realised this and gave the popular Solomon Asante a start against Guinea and Togo, dropping Atsu in the process.
It’s easy to imagine that Asante’s stop-start international career might regress once again under Grant, although the excellent Frank Acheampong, of Anderlecht, is a really promising addition to the squad.
Up front, it will be talisman and record-breaker Asamoah Gyan alongside Jordan Ayew. The latter has shown occasional flashes of brilliance amidst a reservoir of mediocrity.
Kwesi Appiah, of League Two’s Cambridge United, is a surprise (and fairly bizarre) addition to the provisional squad, with Dave Accam another option up top or in wide areas. Waris Majeed has a poor recent international scoring record (one goal in his last nine) and misses out through injury.
In truth, it’s all been a little desultory, and Grant will need to establish a coherent plan if Ghana are to escape from Group C.