The team that are seen as an encapsulation of a whole continent's football, Ghana's consistency and tradition with football means they are always of interest ahead of a major tournament, with their evident talent, ability and promise meaning they are also rarely short of backers to go all the way and win the tournament. But, with the start of the 2015 African Cup of Nations imminent, a black cloud hangs over Ghanaian football once more, raining down with pessimism.
Having once been tipped to be the team of a generation, taking a hold of every African honour, and potentially break the continental duck on the world stage, nothing of the sort has occurred. Winners of the U-20 World Cup in 2009, the team that took the world by storm have largely failed to fulfil their immense promise, with Ghana stagnating perhaps more than any other team on the continent.
Still possessing some fine players, they are by no means going to fall flat on their faces. At the World Cup in Brazil they weren't too bad, with their 2-2 draw against eventual champions Germany one of the games of the tournament, as they failed to get out of an incredibly tough group. But this time round, the gloss of optimism has been taken off. There's doesn't seem to be the feeling that this is “their year”.
Indeed, on paper at least, the team doesn't seem too disastrous. In fact, it is largely the same team that has commended so much optimism from its fans before. The Black Stars offensive line has always superb, with the effervescent Asamoah Gyan, an endless threat of goals, Andre Ayew often proving effective and Christian Atsu's pace down the right a constant source of issue for the opposition – if a little lacking in his final product.
A youthful experience runs throughout this, with a number of the squad possessing the sort of caps expected of someone much older. Andre Ayew and Emmanuel Badu, 25 and 24-years-old respectively, both are nearing the 60 cap mark, with 22-year-old Christian Atsu – still lacking any regular game time in his career so far – already on 22 caps. This is probably the ideal situation to have in terms of players available, with many of these players on their third or fourth major international tournament, which in theory gives them a certain street wise knowledge of how these tournaments play out.
Naturally, Asamoah Gyan will be man that everyone is looking to. The man they call “Baby Jet”, still producing some outrageous figures in terms of goals per game for Al-Ain, will once again be the figurehead of the Ghana attack – with the captain competing in his sixth Cup of Nations this time round. A lot of positive noises are also being made about Augsburg left-back Baba Rahman, who at the age of 20-years-old, looks to present a solution at long last to the left-back issue Ghana have had.
The defence in general, however, cannot be talked about with much praise. Early signs suggest that Ghana are likely to play a 3-5-2 formation under new boss Avram Grant, with John Boye and Jonathan Mensah likely to be consistent fixtures at the heart of the defence once again, having formed a reasonable partnership over the past few years. Whilst on their day they can be excellent, the expected maturity for their age and experience does not correlate with the often naïve tendencies they both display on occasion, with Boye most notably photographed kissing a wad of money after the bonus dispute at the World Cup.
Ghana likely to advance?
The appointment of Avram Grant too has hardly been greeted with much applause. A fairly uninspiring manager, he remains somewhat of an unknown, not clear whether the tangible success he has had in his career a result of luck or talent. Most recently, some slightly obscure roles in Serbia and Thailand had some doubting his motivation for management any longer, leaving Black Star fans leaving about as excited as the general expression of indifference that Grant exhibits with his face.
Pre-tournament, the Israeli's squad selection has been obstructed by nuisance and eyebrow-raising. Late injuries to Kwadwo Asamoah – arguably the country's best player – Majeed Waris and Jeffrey Schlupp forced Grant to rethink whatever minimal plans he may have made during his short time in the job. The selection of striker Crystal Palace striker Kwesi Appiah has proven to be suspicious, with the 24-year-old not only most recently playing his football on-loan at Cambridge United in the fourth tier of English football, but also sharing the same agent as Avram Grant.
Given their draw in their Group of Death, Avram Grant has no time to worry about these problems, instead should focus on the opposition that are afoot. Senegal, Algeria and South Africa are the task the Black Stars have to come against in Equatorial Guinea, with Group C being almost impossible to call, such is the competitiveness of the group.
Prior experience suggests Ghana will likely advance from the group, but the tough opposition they face from Group D in the quarter final could well cut their time short of the final. And in a country where winning is the only acceptable result, it looks like it'll be another disappointing tournament for Ghana.