Nickname: The Black Stars
Previous Appearances: 20 (1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Best Finish: Champions (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982)
Who are they?
Perennial contenders who still yearn for glory days of the past, recent squads have boasted quality aplenty, but they’ve become accustomed to ‘playing the bridesmaids’ in the last decade. They’ve reached the semi-finals in the last five Afcons, and advanced to the Final – finishing second – on two occasions.
Route to Qualification
Ghana topped Group H fairly comfortably, securing their spot in Gabon with several games to go after winning four of their six matches. Avram Grant’s charges were eye-catching in their 7-1 demolition of Mauritius, only months after they were defeated in the Nations Cup Final by the Cote d’Ivoire, but the side struggled to reach top gear after that. They were worryingly contained by Rwanda until Wakaso Mubarak’s 87th-minute winner in Kigali in September 2015, and had no answers against a resolute Mozambique defence away from home. Most concerning, perhaps, is the 1-1 draw with Rwanda in Accra three months ago, with Ghana looking devoid of ideas and inspiration on the day.
Definition of Success
Ghana fans want the gold, but with optimism leaking away from Grant’s tenure, Kwadwo Asamoah still absent and Asamoah Gyan far from his best, another run to the final four should be considered success … in the context.
The sentiment against Nigeria runs deep, but with the Super Eagles absent from the continental showpiece, Ghana will probably most be desperate to get one over on the Cote d’Ivoire, their vanquishers in the 2015 Final.
Top Three players
Andre Ayew, Forward, West Ham United
‘Dede’ has endured a testing few months since moving to West Ham, having been injured on his debut and then struggling to reach his top performance in recent weeks. The forward was missed by the Black Stars during his absence – Ghana have won just one of their last seven matches when the former Marseille man hasn’t been in action – and has the potential to be the player of the tournament.
Abdul Rahman Baba, Left-back, Schalke (On loan from Chelsea)
As the only player to have started Ghana’s last 10 matches, it’s clear that Baba holds a key role in Grant’s plans, despite the case made by rival left-back Jeffrey Schlupp last season. However, like Dede, Baba’s also in the midst of something of a testing campaign at club level, where he’s been in and out of the Schalke side. He was so impressive at the last Nations Cup, but can he rediscover his top form in Gabon?
Christian Atsu, Forward, Newcastle United
Atsu was outstanding at the last Nations Cup, putting aside some difficult circumstances at club level to demonstrate that he is one of the genuinely exceptional African talents of his generation. Day-to-day, the Chelsea loanee looks to be enjoying life much more these days, albeit in English football’s second tier, and he needs to be the difference for a workmanlike Ghana side that can lack ingenuity.
Who brings the African league flavour?
After winning the 2015-16 GPL MVP award, there was much clamouring for Blessing’s inclusion in the Ghana squad although, initially at least, Grant proved resistant to the demands of the fans. However, ahead of the Nations Cup, the Israeli coach finally bowed to peer pressure and opted to invite Blessing to the pre-Afcon training camp. Having scored 17 goals with Liberty Professionals last season, he’s surely worth a punt for the tournament proper!
How far will they go?
On their day, Ghana have the quality to see off any of their continental rivals, but the team’s momentum has drifted away since the last tournament and they look far from their best. Grant may well unite the troops as he did in Equatorial Guinea, and considering their excellent recent record of reaching the semi-finals, you’d back them to make the last four again. However, with a testing banana skin against Uganda in their opening match, and with Mali and Egypt awaiting them in the group, the Black Stars will have to up their game to reach the last eight.