The Plan | Confidence is rarely ever low among Ghanaians when the national team is preparing for an international tournament yet, ahead of Qatar 2022, expectations are being managed – and rightly so. The Black Stars have struggled for form across their past 12 games, winning just two of those (and that was against opponents ranked outside FIFA’s top 100).
Even the two-legged playoff success against Nigeria that secured qualification to the World Cup was not memorable for being a great spectacle, only for the remarkable tactical discipline that produced two draws and saw the team go through on away goals. It does not look as if the head coach, Otto Addo, knows what his best team is when it comes to personnel and tactics as he keeps chopping and changing both of them but the former Ghana and Borussia Dortmund player insists he has got it all under control. “I’m ready [for the World Cup], everybody is ready,” he said last month. “We qualified, that’s why we deserve to be there and we’ll give everything. Ghana have proven in the past that we are a tournament team. I know we have to improve but I’m looking forward to the tournament.”
The fact that those words came at the end of a week that saw Ghana thumped 3-0 by Brazil before a narrow victory over Nicaragua, makes them sound a bit hollow. The general impression is that Addo is still pondering how to best set up in Qatar and will leave it until the last moment to decide. The pool of players available and playing well keeps expanding. It seems as if Addo will go into the tournament with no major injury concerns and that is good news because in a group with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, a Son Heung-min-inspired South Korea and a Uruguay side with whom the Black Stars have unfinished business, they cannot afford any weaknesses.
The Coach | Otto Addo, who was made interim manager before the playoff games against Nigeria, is only the second Ghanaian – after Kwasi Appiah in 2013 – to guide the west African country to World Cup qualification. The fact that he overcame Ghana’s arch-rivals was a particularly impressive feat as it came on the back of the country’s worst Africa Cup of Nations performance ever. However, the Black Stars have failed to kick on after eliminating Nigeria and Oddo’s inability to decide on a tactic and stick to it has left fans and players bewildered at times. That he wants his team to defend solidly is clear to see but beyond that there is little clarity.
The fact that Addo has not held a head coach role anywhere before getting the Ghana job counts against him but he has worked as a “talent coach” at Borussia Dortmund since 2019, helping players such as Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham settle and thrive at the Bundesliga club. A further plus is that Addo has coaching experience in the form of the ex-Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton, who is Ghana’s technical advisor, to call on in the build-up and during the tournament.
Star Player | Thomas Partey’s form with Arsenal this season has warmed the hearts of his compatriots as they hope he will carry it with him into the World Cup for Ghana. The 29-year-old has been central to what has been good about the Gunners – fighting at the top of the Premier League and flying in Europe – and looks in good shape to do the same for the Black Stars. Partey was key to Ghana qualifying for the World Cup with three goals in four games, including the decisive away goal against Nigeria that sealed the ticket to Qatar. “The stats are there and they are unquestionable,” Mikel Arteta said towards the end of last season. “The win rate when Thomas is there is simply higher.”
Unsung Hero | Another of Ghana’s Premier League stars, Daniel Amartey has gone from being a bit-part player at Leicester to being an increasingly important option for Brendan Rodgers. For Ghana, his central defensive partnership with Alexander Djiku have got the Black Star this far and even with the emergence of Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu, Amartey is set to play an important part in Qatar. Salisu may be the more eye-catching defender but what makes Amartey a key player for Otto Addo is his versatility, he can also do a good job at right-back or as a defensive midfielder.
Probable Lineup | 3-4-3 Wollacott – Amartey, Djiku, Salisu – Lamptey, Baba, Partey, Mensah – Kudus, Williams, J Ayew
National Anthem | Below are the words of Ghana’s national anthem (the first stanza) – but that has not always been the case. The original lyrics, to a song composed by the late Philip Gbeho in 1957 (the year Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule), were replaced in the 1970s with a new version, penned by Michael Kwame Gbordzoe. The anthem’s popularity is reflected in how loudly and proudly it is belted out by Ghanaian footballers and fans – not quite at Gli Azzurri levels, but close enough.
God bless our homeland Ghana
And make our nation great and strong,
Bold to defend forever
The cause of Freedom and of Right;
Fill our hearts with true humility,
Make us cherish fearless honesty,
And help us to resist oppressors’ rule
With all our will and might for evermore
Cult Hero | There is a reason Abedi Ayew earned the nickname “Pelé” during his playing days, bearing it long enough for it to become accustomed to the player as one of his official names. Ayew – father of the current Ghana captain, André, the Crystal Palace forward Jordan, and Gibraltar-based midfielder Ibrahim – did not score goals in the same way as the Brazilian great but his mastery of the ball and the elegance with which he moved on the pitch was quite reminiscent of O Rei. The 57-year-old was the first Ghanaian to win the Champions League, starring in the final that saw Marseille stun a terrific Milan side and for Ghana – during an international career spanning more than a decade – he was just as talismanic. He never made it to a World Cup himself but has lived the experience through his sons, who have been at four tournaments collectively.
By Fentuo Tahiru Fentuo of Joy Sports via Get Football’s partnership with the Guardian