Ghana seeks to end run of near-misses
JOHANNESBURG GHANA hopes its gifted squad can finally end a run of nearmisses at the African Cup of Nations and deliver a fifth title, 30 years after its last.
With Ivory Coast the biggest and maybe only real challenger at the tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the Black Stars are banking that a run of third and second at the last two African Cups continues with first this year.
Ghana’s strength in depth means that even the absence of Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien with injury, and AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, who announced a surprise international retirement last year, hasn’t badly affected its hopes.
With defensive mainstay and captain John Mensah, Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari, skillful winger-forward Andre Ayew and striker Asamoah Gyan, Ghana has all bases covered.
“The selection was based on individual quality, character, strong personality and a winning mentality,” said Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic, a Serb who says he has the right mix to take Ghana to its first triumph since 1982. “I have named players I think are capable of doing the job in the competition and I will be responsible for my action.” After losing to Egypt in the 2010 African Cup final and making the World Cup quarterfinals when the continent’s other challengers‚ including Ivory Coast‚ faded, Ghana has to claim the title this time to end doubts over its ability to convert talent into trophies.
Just making the final probably won’t be good enough, having lost in the decider twice since ‘82.
But Stevanovic, who took over last year, knows that. The coach has accepted the pressure his team will be under to finally deliver and has used it as a positive.
“It such an honour to work here because the passion for football in Africa is far greater than in Europe,” he said.
“Daily routines (in Ghana) will almost come to a standstill a week before the tournament and football will be the only topic. The team bus was barely able to get through the crowd after our home qualifiers for the Cup of Nations.” Essien and Boateng will be missed but Ghana probably still has a stronger squad of players than all the other teams at the finals, except maybe Ivory Coast.
Every one of the 20 outfielders it has picked for the tournament plays at a foreign club, and in Mensah, Muntari and Gyan, the team has world-class players in key positions at central defense, central midfield and main striker. It’s a strong spine, while Ayew provides the flair.