The number ’30’ was oft-quoted yesterday ahead of the announcement of the provisional Black Stars squad for Brazil. With thirty days to the World Cup many media reports suggested Kwesi Appiah was going to announce a thirty-man squad.
Appiah named twenty-six with three more cuts expected after two weeks of training camp. Some outlets had handicapped players like Anthony Annan, John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah as some of the players that would make the team. They didn’t. There was a clamor for local players in some media. Appiah obliged by including Stephen Adams, a goalkeeper but no more. Jeffrey Schlupp and David Accam did not feature in Ghana’s qualifying campaign but got called.
Appiah picked a squad after months of observing his players often at close range, traveling through Europe where almost all are based. The names suggest that it has been a deliberate and honest process. There was no wishful thinking when it came to injured players or players on the fringes. He has attempted to mix young and in form players with experienced ones who might not be playing as regularly as when they were in their prime but whose presence at key points could be invaluable.
Four years ago, Milovan Rajevac promoted en bloc the core members of the World Cup winning U-20 squad to play at the African Cup of Nations. Because of a combination of injuries, players not on form or unwilling to play and indiscipline, he didn’t take much of a gamble in promoting players who months earlier had accomplished a remarkable feat while showing a competitive spirit and maturity. With little pressure and fewer expectations than usual, they reached the African Cup of Nations final. Going into the World Cup that year, Rajevac ostensibly had his squad filled out by the time he announced it. There weren’t going to be many shocks.
This squad has been formed out of different circumstances. There has been turnover since Appiah took over at key positions. Our entire defensive line (goalkeepers included) has been in flux with the central defensive position particularly worrisome. Add the defensive midfield position and that firm spine, a key element of our past successes is absent.
Our goalkeepers all have deep flaws. Ghana’s number one Fatau Dauda is struggling for games in South Africa. It is less than ideal to have your goalkeeper stuck on a bench, unable to get ‘live reps’ from games to keep him sharp. Adam Kwarasey could be our number one by that measure alone. Yet, when he has been given the responsibility, his self belief deserts him. Stephen Adams played in the CHAN and excelled. Brazil is no CHAN. If there ever was the need to clone a human being, this surely is it.
At right back, Appiah named Daniel Opare and Samuel Inkoom. At left back, he has listed Harrison Afful and Schlupp. Schlupp is the latest candidate to solve our left back problem and might be an inspired choice. Four years ago, Hans Adu Sarpei played as a left back and while not flashy filled the role admirably. Appiah will be hoping Schlupp’s conversion from striker will pay similar dividends to Sarpei. We better hope the Schlupp experiment works if for nothing but to squelch the suicidal notion of Kwadwo Asamoah as a left back.
It will be interesting to see if all four full backs remain in the final squad. Given Afful’s versatility and ability to play on either side and Michael Essien’s ability to deputise in an emergency situation either at right back or central defence, I’d be a bit surprised if Daniel Opare and Samuel Inkoom both make it.
Central midfield is a hard one to call. Anthony Annan was a fixture for so long that when he lost his place and Michael Essien’s injuries piled up, there was instability. Emmanuel Agyemang Badu should have stepped up and owned that place but clearly he hasn’t been able to. Rabiu Mohammed was the heir but a terrible injury last year set him back. In comes Afriyie Acquah whose rise at Italian club Parma has been written about extensively. You don’t play 26 games in a league that treasures defensive discipline and instincts if you’re not good. For a former Italian national team coach no less. Albert Adomah is a player who has always flown under the radar. He is not flashy and does not look for the limelight. He just looks happy to be around. Often, squads for tournaments need players like that who are content even if they are asked to be water carriers.
Little is known about David Accam but if fellow Right to Dream graduant, Majid Waris’ performances are anything to go by then Accam has the right education. Curiously, he has been listed as a left midfielder, a position Mubarak Wakaso and Andre Ayew are not going to relinquish anytime soon. Sulley Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah’s experience at that position means there is ample cover even in an emergency. Accam will likely be competing with players like Jordan Ayew and Albert Adomah for those final spots on the plane to Brazil.
All in all, the squad is balanced and few can complain about the selections. Appiah is clearly aware of his side’s deficiencies and has selected players he hopes will fill certain voids. A few weeks in camp and in friendly matches and they will all reveal how right his selections are.