Another group D side struggling without their main man in the middle…
• Nickname: The Black Stars
• Colors: White, Black, Gold
• FIFA Ranking: 32
• How They Got Here: Won their African qualifying group, beating out Benin, Mali and Sudan
• World Cup Pedigree: Only their second Cup, they made it to the knock-out phase in 2006
African sides just seem to run out of luck on the biggest stage. Two world cups in a row, their best sides (Ghana and Ivory Coast) have faced unenviable groups. The competition is begging for a stand out performance by an African side. The football mad continent supplies some of the world’s best talents to the biggest clubs in Europe and it’s only a matter of time before this is reflected on the international scene. But maybe not this year… Arguably the best side in Africa, Ghana exceeded all expectations in ’06 by progressing out of Group D (ironic) that featured Italy, the Czechs and the USA. A remarkably similar group awaits this time – Italy and Germany are veritable superpowers, the US and Australia have countless similarites (physicality, mediocrity, growing domestic leagues, defensive style) and the Czechs are an Eastern European dark house much like the Serbians. This one major difference, however, and that is the absence of the heart beat of the team, if not nation, Michael Essien. Probably the 4th best side in the group, can they surprise the competition once again?
In 2008, Rajevac was plucked from obscurity and thrusted into the intense role. Responsible to millions of Ghanians for whom football is more religion than game, Rajevac was an unusual selection, to say the least. With experience limited to domestic Serbian sides, Rajevac decided to give his resume a more global feel with the African gig. At first, much maligned, but at present respected for his results. The gaffer has disproved his critics time and again, most particularly with a final appearance in the African Nations Cups, despite severe injury problems. Many Africans still wish he’d play a more expansive attacking style, but his sharp tactics have made Ghana a well organised team that is difficult to beat.
Yesterday, we spoke about the influence of Michael Ballack to Germany, but Essien’s absence takes the matter to a whole new level. He’s the key man for the side, wether he’s in the side or without. Rest assured, the commentators will mention his name just as much as his replacement. Essien and Muntari anchoring the midfield are more than just vital for the side. If you’ve ever see them play, then you’ll know what I’m on about. They are simply all over the pitch. Serious attacking threats going forward (just by the way, I’m sick of Chelsea fans screaming shoot whenever he’s in the attacking half) and outstanding possession winners, these two can smother opposition’s midfield and dominate entire matches if not tournaments. Essien IS the archetypal box-to-box midfielder. Without Essien, the side will struggle for fluidity in their play and won’t have the same ease of transition from defence to attack. You always want the best players in the world at the greatest show on earth, and it’s a real shame that Essien won’t feature. Hopes of a lengthy cup run for the side must be seriously tenuous now.
Sulley Muntari (midfielder, Inter Milan) has an up and down 2010 and rumours have recently circled about a falling out with Rajevac. His partnership with Essien is truly world class and Muntari will have to be at his best to make up for the missing Chelsea starlet. Muntari is an outstanding battler, who is a proven ball winner and goal poacher. He’s scored 15 times for his country and loves to strike on the important occasions. Stephen Appiah (midfielder, Bologna) is the third part of The Black Stars’ three-headed midfield monster. Another solid player, who gives them bucket loads of leadership. John Mensah (defender, on loan to Sunderland from Lyon) is a top-notch defender, who has shown his worth throughout Sunderland’s indifferent EPL campaign. We spoke about him in a past post, as he has been struggling with injuries of late. If he’s not in the side, then you can write them off completely. John Pantsil (right back, Fulham) is an attack-minded fullback who once incited a near riot by waving an Israeli flag (he played there for several years) during a goal celebration for country. No Moshe, he’s not Jewish. Asamoah Gyan (forward, Rennes) is the main man going forward. Despite on paper looking a little lacking up front, the Africans never seem to struggle for goals.
GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”
Ghana have an exciting future, after taking out the 2009 under 20 world cup. Adiyiah looks to be the pick of that bunch and the AC Milan striker is on the fringes of starting. PTS would love to see him granted enough game time to shw the world his worth. With these kind of footballers, Ghana could become a regular attendee at the World Cup.
THE LIKELY VILLAIN
It’s gotta be Essien. What are you doing son?
I wonder if Rajevac will stick to his favoured 4-4-2 despite the injury worries. Ghana are another group D side, who are physical and big and focus on possession/pressure football. Unfortunately for them, the Aussies, Serbians and Germans probably have the edge in that department. Nevertheless, they are typically fit, and will cope with the rigorous schedule.
IT’S SORTA LIKE…
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
This may seem a little crude, but the movie lacked its biggest name in Ledger, and Ghana will be lacking theirs too.
At over 90 percent, Ghana leads the world in the percentage of women aged 50 to 54 in economic activity. Useless!
THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT
There are two competing story arcs in the Ghana-Germany game on June 23rd. Both involve Kevin-Prince Boateng. First, he was born in Germany to Ghanian immigrants. Secondly, it was his tackle in Saturday’s FA Cup Final that put German captain Michael Ballack on the bench for the whole Cup. And, while both of those are interesting, nothing can top the fact that if Kevin-Prince and his brother, Jerome (who opted to play for Germany) make the World Cup roster and see the field it will be the first time two brothers have competed against each other in a World Cup. (A five-minute Google search verified this.) How’s that for dramatic? ps. it’s a shame that Ballack won’t face off against Essien in what would have been a titanic struggle.
Anything passed the group would surely be a success for the Black Stars. But, if they get that far, then expect them to cause a few upsets (think England on penalties). It’ll only take one surprise win to have every African storming the stadium in euphoric riot. Even without Essien they are still strong, creative and physical. Without Essien, they’ve gone from being genuine dark horse to a similar level to the Aussies. However, their defensive frailties have subsided (watch them concede a howler first up…) and their experience in qualifying last time will be invaluable. They’re proven giant killers, but will need a result in their opening against a fancied Serbia. Kingston, their keeper isn’t exactly a world beater and goal scoring could be an issue. 2010 looks to have come a little too soon, as they have 10/31 players under the age of 21.
African spirit + good mix of youth and experience + decent midfield and defence – Essien – Essien – Essien = Can’t see them getting passed Germany or Serbia. Their second game against Australia will be their major battle.