Ghana hope to end decade of disappointment
When it comes to the African Nations Cup, Ghana often resemble a boxer who loses his lucky gloves en route to a bout.
Regularly branded as favourites or given another flattering label, the ‘Black Stars’ won the last of four continental titles 26 years ago amid the heat and dust of Libya.
Stars have come and gone, but only once since the Tripoli triumph have Ghana come close to reclaiming top spot, losing a marathon penalty shootout against surprise packets Ivory Coast after a goalless 1992 decider.
Some suggest a glut of stars has been the problem. It was hardly a state secret that three-time African Footballer of the Year Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew and striker Anthony Yeboah were not exactly desperate to share a hotel room.
But the class of 2008 seem more united if less talented, and any realistic list of potential champions must include a country seeking a record-equalling fifth title.
Drawn with Guinea, Morocco and Namibia in Group A, a place in the knockout phase seems probable, but formidable Ivory Coast, Mali or Nigeria are likely quarter-final opponents.
The loss of injured Turkey-based midfield conductor and captain Stephen Appiah is a low blow, but French coach Claude le Roy believes crowd power can compensate.
“With Stephen missing, we need the support of our fans more than ever,” said the coach who succeeed Serb Ratomir Dujkovic after Ghana made an honourable second-round exit from the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The ‘Black Stars’ were alone among the five African challengers in reaching the knockout phase, ironically just months after losing to Nigeria and Zimbabwe when making a timid first round departure from the last Nations Cup.
With qualification guaranteed as hosts, Ghana have relied on friendlies to prepare with a 4-1 hiding of old rivals Nigeria in London and a 5-0 thrashing by Saudi Arabia the high and low points.
Concerns remain about the defence and erratic form of striker Asamoah Gyan, leaving much resting on English Premiership midfielders Michael Essien of Chelsea and Sulley Muntari of Portsmouth.
Le Roy has scoured Europe for talent and his 28-man preliminary squad includes teenage Marseille midfielder Andrew ‘Dede’ Ayew, a son of three-time African Footballer of the Year ‘Pele’.