Asamoah Gyan will forever be remembered for three things at the World Cup: his goals, the ensuing dances, and his blazed penalty kick that denied Ghana a place in the history books at South Africa in 2010.
However, Gyan, who scored on his international debut at the age of 17, is not a man to sulk for long. Instead of hiding in the face of such disastrous few minutes, he has come back stronger, captaining the Black Stars to qualify for the World Cup by shattering Egypt 7-3 in the final qualifying round.
The Al-Ain of UAE striker is therefore set for the world stage again, a place where he has grabbed the headlines for a variety of reasons. He scored the fastest goal of the tournament in 2006 at Germany, got sent off against Brazil at the Round-of-16 at the same tournament, and scored the winner at the same round four years later in South Africa as Ghana breezed into the quarter finals before the meltdown.
The Uruguay debacle is not a story to be heard in Accra and all of Ghana, as it evokes bad memories for the nation. The sight of Luis Suarez pushing out a certain winning goal and later gloating at the missed penalty will also remain a Ghanaian nightmare for ages. Only actual qualification for the semi-finals can heal the nation — a task they are already looking beyond, according to the Ghana FA spokesman.
“The things that differentiate title winners from mere participants, we have them,” he boasted ahead of the Mundial, which kicks off in Brazil this summer.
Ghana’s history in the World Cup is a short but exciting one, never making an exit at the group stage. For a country that has always produced talented players, the foremost being legendary Abedi Pele, it is rather a surprise that the Black Stars just cut their World Cup teeth in 2006.
An impressive FIFA World Cup in 2006 saw the Black Stars beat the Czech Republic and the USA, before elimination by Brazil in the second round. But they were the only African team to escape their group.
In 2010, they were again the only side from the continent in the knockout rounds, and they equalled Africa’s best-ever performance by beating the USA to reach the quarter-finals. Ghana’s loss in a penalty shoot-out to Uruguay in the last eight was perhaps the most dramatic of the tournament, and they may well consider themselves as having unfinished business after Asamoah Gyan’s missed penalty denied them from becoming the first African side to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup.
They are highly determined to set this record of a semi-final or final place at Brazil, and the country has the talents to achieve this with a golden generation of their own.
Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari, Andre Ayew, Christian Atsu, Kwandwo Asamoah, experienced John Mensah and the aforementioned Gyan will be joined by other youngsters who will look to take over the world by storm. Most of them witnessed the 2010 meltdown and they will be joined by other youthful stars who watched on, looking to exert revenge on the tournament, and — if possible — Uruguay.
These players are plying their trade in some of the biggest European leagues, and it is surprising that a local coach is making them tick.
Kwesi Appiah has been lauded by the nation’s media for his efforts since taking over in 2012, culminating in World Cup qualification after trouncing North African giants Egypt 7-3 on aggregate at the final qualification stage. He has also been praised for keeping the many egos in the team in check, particularly his ability to make Kevin-Prince Boateng commit to the Ghanaian cause.
Ghana’s strength is in midfield and attack, speed abounding from the likes of Kwandwo Asamoah, Christian Atsu, and Asamoah Gyan. There variation of attacking threat is also a worry for opponents, as they have the ability to score either from open play or dead ball situations.
Defence could derail the Ghanaian dream, as age is no more on commandeering centre back, John Mensah. His experience will be useful but against the world’s best teams in a tough group, his lack of pace may become a weak point to attack. Also, the team has a mental block in coming from behind to win games: an attribute of high value at the World Cup.
Since achieving quarter-final qualification at the World Cup, Cameroon have never achieved second-round qualification since their 1990 quarter-final showing, while Senegal have not qualified for the World Cup since the 2002 quarter-final surprise. However, if Ghana can break the jinx and qualify for the second round from the tournament’s Group of Death, I expect them to become Africa’s first nation in the semi-finals.