World Cup 2006 Preview – Ghana
Outright Odds: 250/1
Group E Winners: 12/1
After winning four African Cup of Nations titles and producing players of the calibre of Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah, the Black Stars have qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time in 10 attempts, stretching back to 1962.
Despite being a force in African football between the 1960s and 1980s, qualification for the World Cup was never a serious exercise and more recently the country suffered from poor management both on and off the pitch to scupper their attempts to reach the 1994, 1998 and 2002 finals.
However, this problem was eradicated under new manager Ratomir Dujkovic. The Serbian took over in December 2004 after Portuguese coach Mariano Barreto quit four months earlier. Dujkovic enjoyed success with Rwanda, leading a team dubbed as no hopers to their first African Cup of Nations finals in 2004.
His influence was clear as Ghana won four of their five remaining qualifying fixtures, including a 2-0 away victory over South Africa and eventually topping their group by five points at the expense of the Bafana Bafana.
Where Ghana excel is in midfield. Chelsea’s Michael Essien is a key player for his country and has also shone at club level, despite criticism of his £24.4 million price tag imposed by former club Lyon. They are captained by left-footed Stephen Appiah who now plys his trade at Turkish outfit Fenerbahce following eight seasons in Italy with Udinese, Parma, Brescia and Juventus. Sulley Muntari also brings with him Serie A experience as he is currently on the books at Udinese.
Ghana have been boosted in defence by the return of Roma centre half Samuel Kuffor. The former Bayern Munich defender was out of favour following a dispute with the coach but since apologising he is back in contention. Even without him Ghana boasted a mean defence, conceding just four goals in 10 qualifying matches, the least of any African nation.
Despite a strong setup, Ghana go into their World Cup group as the unfancied outsiders which could work to their advantage. They are pitted against one of the tournament favourites in Italy on their opening match so there is no real pressure for them. The team have gelled well under Dujkovic and are capable of causing an opening match upset.
Beyond that they could struggle as they lack players with a true cutting edge in attack. The responsibility will be on Vitesse’s Matthew Amoah and Modena’s 20-year old striker Gyan Asamoah.
Ghana are capable of catching out slow-starters Italy in their first match and qualifying from the group would be a major success. Further tough games against the Czech Republic and USA could see the Black Stars narrowly miss out.
Ghana to beat Italy @ 5/1