I admit it. I am freaking jealous right now. Of all the facebook posts, twitter updates and of the phone calls announcing departures to Brazil. Four years ago, I was certain I’d be one of the privileged fans to witness the matches in person. I had even convinced myself that I would be in Brazil whether Ghana qualified or not.

Alas, on the eve of the tournament, I’ll likely be watching all 32 matches on television and my pronouncements have turned from a promise into bluster. I would have had to spend the equivalent of 15,000Ghc and probably more to go to the World Cup.

That was a bridge too far in this current economic climate and given the slender pockets I’m currently carrying. At the end of the day, my brain would not allow me to think irrationally.

My solace is that I have been fortunate to visit Brazil before. It was during carnival six years ago. I went to Salvador, Bahia and it was a truly special time. I can only imagine that this kind of party will be similar but much grander. 30 or so days of it. If there is one thing Brazilians know how to do it’s PARTY. I have also been to the last two World Cups and as much as I think this would be even more my kind of party, sometimes it’s not meant to be.

Sigh. Time for a beer to drown my sorrows and groove to the Chromeo song above.

My fervor in supporting the Black Stars will not wane though. I’ll be going through the nervous breakdowns that come with every corner, the elation that comes with goals, the tension that every free kick outside of the box elicits. It’s going to be a World Cup like no other.

Stow your carry on items, strap your seatbelts, remain seated for the following month and let’s hope for as few emergencies of the Suarez kind as possible.



Hope Springs Eternal in Jordan’s Feet

Will Brazil see Jordan Ayew emerge from his elder brother's shadow?

Will Brazil see Jordan Ayew emerge from his elder brother’s shadow? Photo courtesy AP

The Black Stars beat South Korea last night emphatically. 4-0. Jordan Ayew came on earlier than he would have expected, in the third minute after an injury to Majeed Waris and scored a hat trick. He clearly grabbed the headlines.

Jurgen Klinsmann was reported to be in the stands and I’m sure he will have gone home with many insights. Chief among them is that Ghana’s attack can be ruthless if you let your guard down.

He will also be befuddled. I have never thought of Kwesi Appiah as a chess player but perhaps it is time to give him his due. The joke is truly on us. For the first time since the 2013 African Cup of Nations, Kwadwo Asamoah started the match as a left back. Prior to the game I dreaded the thought. As a friend said to me, it’s criminal that his attacking talent has to take a backseat to his makeshift defending. His performance against South Korea was encouraging though and I’ve been brought kicking and screaming to the realization that he is likely going to play and might even inspire our progress to the next round.

With the help of Andre Ayew the left side of the defense was solid. The central defensive pairing of Jonathan Mensah and John Boye also performed well overall. It took a while for them to settle though and the South Koreans nearly took advantage of uncertain and sometimes careless defending in the first 30 minutes of the match. Some last ditch blocks of goal-bound shots by the Koreans frayed Ghanaian nerves.

Jordan Ayew’s deflected shot nestled into the goal however and after 11 minutes we were opportunistically ahead. Despite the initial threat of the Koreans, Ghana had sprung a counter attack to the delight of coach Appiah and we were ahead. It was a goal, which I thought would do well for Ayew’s confidence. Little did I know he had more in him. Whatever he ate before the match, Popeye’s spinach my guess, he better repeat ahead of every one of our games.

Jordan’s play for me was not surprising though. On a loan spell at Sochaux and under the guidance of Herve Renard, Ayew showed the qualities that have dared some to say he could be an even bigger star than his brother. If the first goal had a bit of luck, the second was clinical. After picking the ball from just outside the box, he picked his spot and rifled in a low hard shot into the corner. Accurate and powerful, the Korean keeper floundered. The third goal was for me the pick of the goals and showed what I’ve always seen in Jordan. His movement off defenders’ shoulders is something else. Much more experienced strikers struggle to lose defenders in the box and the most gifted do it by instinct. Jordan’s natural feel for the game came through in that moment.


In the first half, the Stars appeared more comfortable playing the ball backwards. It was as though the midfielders and defenders were programmed to only kick backwards. That invited pressure from the quick Koreans and kept us on the back foot. Against the US, who pressure high up the field, it could be a dangerous tendency.

The first half performance alarmed me defensively. We were a far cry defensively from the team that ended the last World Cup. The cover from the midfield wasn’t there and the right full back position showed weakness. In the 26th minute, there was a particularly humorous moment when Rabiu Mohammed and Ayew collided. It was almost emblematic of the confusion defensively in the half.

Kwadwo Asamoah is a much better forward than defender. He didn’t attack much on the flanks but on the couple of occasions when he did his skill shone through.

This was a good test against World Cup opposition prior to the opening match. As we wait for more information on Majeed Waris’ injury, Appiah can take solace in the notion that we have adequate replacements in every position on the field.


Kevin Prince Boateng's place in the squad has been secured. Now, can he deliver?

Kevin Prince Boateng’s place in the squad has been secured. Now, can he deliver?

Kwesi Appiah named his final 23-man squad for Brazil shortly after the friendly against the Dutch.The three dropped players were David Accam, Jerry Akaminko and Jeffrey Schlupp.

According to the final squad listings from all the 32 teams, Ghana’s team is the youngest in the competition with an average age of 24.9. This would be the perfect time to stifle those giggles and move on to the squad numbering of the team. Andre Dede Ayew will be wearing 10, the number his father made his. Captain Asamoah Gyan will be wearing his usual number 3. When you see the number 6, know that it is Afriyie Acquah. Get familiar as he may be spending a lot of time on the pitch. The rest of the squad numbers are here.

Sadly, Jerry Akaminko’s ankle injury during the game ruled him out of the World Cup and of the privilege of a squad number. Akaminko was sure to be on the plane if he hadn’t sustained the injury. It would have been his first World Cup and it’s always a shame to see a player robbed of the opportunity at the biggest sporting event in the World due to injury.We wish him a speedy recovery as he begins his journey to full fitness.

David Accam quickly got over the World Cup omission and scored for his club a day after being cut. Given his form, he is definitely going to get more opportunities to represent Ghana in the future.

Jeffrey Schlupp’s season is over so holiday it was for the Leicester City left back. He had a chance to prevent the lone Van Persie goal in the friendly but slipped agonizingly at the last second. I for one thought that the left back position is such a problem area that picking him even as a backup was a given. Shows you how little I know about Kwesi Appiah’s thinking.

It can’t be easy dropping players for the premier footballing tournament in the World. Hard work might pay off for Accam and Schlupp though. They are both young and a good season in the top flight of the English league will mean another year of experience against top competition. Schlupp will be knocking on the doors of the Black Stars come the Afcon 2015.

A Defeat of Many Parts

Ghanaian coach has some important decisions to make

Ghanaian coach has some important decisions to make

I have been meaning to write a post on the Black Stars last match, the friendly against the Dutch since Sunday morning. While I dawdled, others beat me to it. Time and again.

The special one has even gone so far as to write off the team’s chances at the World Cup.

Predictions are a risky business in normal times. They are even riskier when talking about a team whose starting XI in the first match against the US we are unsure of.

People conveniently forget that prior to the last Mundial, then coach Milovan Rajevac was called all manner of names for daring to lose a friendly match prior to the competition. He maintained that he knew what he was doing and the team would peak at the right time.

Some of us incurable optimists can only hope that we will peak at the right time in Brazil.

Nevertheless, even optimists have moments of clarity and the evidence of last weekend’s friendly raises some questions. It was an abnormal match. The Dutch clearly started with a strong line up while Ghana’s was a mish mash of potential starters and players on the fringe. Therefore, an assessment of the match comes with many qualifications. A prediction based on it can come off as unserious. Still, one might pose questions.

Two years into his reign, Kwesi Appiah has neither found a reliable pair of hands nor a defensive system that adequately protects our keepers.

Adam Kwarasey could have let in three goals by half time and it wouldn’t have been his fault. Yet, we would likely have blamed him and called for Fatau Dauda or Stephen Adams. By the end of the match, with the score a respectable 1-0 and Kwarasey having made some alert saves, he seemed to be in the lead for the position. Goalkeepers need repetitions to build confidence. Hopefully by the next friendly against South Korea, Appiah would have made a firm decision on his starting goalkeeper and will stick with him.

Another problem area that every keen follower of the team can see is in central defence. In South Africa four years ago, the Black Stars were a solid defensive unit, less likely to concede than not. Rajevac’s philosophy seemed to be he would prefer not to concede than to score. He obviously took the lessons from the friendlies and qualification matches and relied on the 5-4-1 system to shore up his defence. Appiah’s much more open 4-4-2 system may create a few more chances per game and may create more opportunities on average but will an open system suffice at a World Cup where goals always come at a premium?

There are bright spots though and possible solutions to our problems. First, Afriyie Acquah looks like the real deal. He impressed in his short time on the pitch. He is where Michael Essien was at his peak. A player with boundless energy and a dynamism that sees him go from box to box, Acquah covers a lot of ground and helps protect the back four. After a stellar season in Italy, he is clearly primed to take the World by stage. If Appiah will let him.

I have heard many complain about Kwadwo Asamoah’s form for Ghana. I still think he can be one of Ghana’s best players. However, I don’t know that Appiah has defined a role for him that allows him to flourish. He has found himself on the bench, at left back, as a left winger and in the middle of the pitch during Appiah’s reign. At Juventus, he is largely confined to the left forward position constantly tracking back to help in defence. Where does Appiah want him to play?

Looking back now on reports on the friendlies prior to the the last World Cup, it is uncanny how quickly our collective doubts can give way to relief and pure ecstasy. Eight days to the start of the tournament, one can only hope that our reflexive pessimism will be washed away come June 14.

Stars Take On Dutch Oranje


Essien captains Stars tonight

Essien captains Stars tonight

The starting line up for tonight’s game is out. Michael Essien will lead the Black Stars out to face the Dutch who finalised their 23-man squad ahead of the game.This match is an important test for the Black Stars ahead of final selections. Ghana previously played a farewell match against a vastly inferior opposition and dominated.

This match will be a more accurate measure of our players’ strengths and weaknesses. The Orantje test will tell us a few things about the form of the players as well as hint at any variations in tactics, formations, preferences for certain personnel etc. Among some of the questions I’ll be looking for clues on is what does Kwesi Appiah have up his sleeves tactically. By now, everyone knows Appiah’s favored formation is the 4-4-2 but as we saw in the last World Cup, there are moments in a match that call for variations. Friendly matches like these are a chance to put what has been learned in practice to the test. Will we see any of these variations? What is Appiah’s preferred central defensive pairing? Who are the fringe players who may fill out the final roster? Also, who does he want as his full backs?

Jeffrey Schlupp will fill in at left back in what is his final opportunity to make Appiah look good. A very good performance and the Leicester City man will not only be selected in Kwesi Appiah’s final 23-man squad but he’ll likely be starting against the US.

In a similar situation is Stromgosdet goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. He is a regular for his team and there is no reason why he wouldn’t be making a serious push to start Ghana’s first World Cup match. While Appiah is certain to take three goalkeepers to Brazil, Fatau Dauda’s lack of regular playing time means his sharpness may not be at its optimum opening the door for one of his colleagues to snatch the starting job.

A strong performance by Samuel Inkoom and he might get Appiah to rethink any notions of him as a bench/fringe player. Christian Atsu and Jordan Ayew seemed to click moving forward in the match against the Dream Team. Will they be able to dazzle the Dutch defense in similar ways? Ayew’s loan spell at Sochaux renewed his confidence. He was full of running up front and was clearly match fit.

Rabiu Mohammed has had to fend off rumors of injury. Being named in the starting line up should allay any fears. Yet, his long recovery and the severity of his injury means that he is only now rounding into form. The presence of Afriyie Acquah and the return of some veterans to the squad has meant that it is no longer a given that once Rabiu isn’t injured he starts.

Michael Essien’s quality in the past has not been in doubt. He has transitioned from a player who has made up for his loss of speed and power by using his vast experience to out think his opponents. Still, this is a player who has shown the ability to play full 90 minute matches at the highest levels sparingly. Yet, his versatility and having him as an option to shut a game down when your team is up 1-0 is invaluable. Today is a chance perhaps to remind us of his assets.

Win or lose, this match should have many lessons for us.

I’m excited.



Dream Team See Stars

Ghana's Christian Atsu scores the second goal against Niger

Christian Atsu was in dazzling form against the Dream Team

The Black Stars gave fans at the Accra Sports Stadium the gift of hope on Friday night in a match billed as a farewell game.And what a love fest it turned out to be.

The opposition, billed the ‘Dream Team’, was appropriately weak. The ‘dreamers’ were clearly hurriedly assembled to make the numbers on the pitch even and it showed. On account of the first few minutes they needed to at least outnumber the Black Stars players by a factor of two to have stood a chance. The disparity in class was evident from the opening whistle.

Christian Atsu’s feet were barely warm after a rather long pre-match ceremony when he beat his marker and fired off his first of three first half goals. It was a quick movement followed by a stunningly precise left footed shot from a difficult angle. Atsu’s twinkling feet dazed the static defence of the Dream Team and after 11 minutes the nightmarish evening was only getting worse. Jordan Ayew and Atsu added two more goals with Atsu completing his hat trick mid way through the first half. The Stars went into half time 5 goals up with Albert Adomah adding a fifth before recess.

The second half was pedestrian, the result of numerous changes. Those who came in must figure they are more likely than not to be picked in the final squad though. Self preservation therefore was paramount. That didn’t stop Sulley Muntari belting one of his trademark free kicks into the bottom right corner before the game ended. The Dream Team had managed to pull a goal back before that goal but by then the outcome had long become inevitable.

Coach Kwesi Appiah’s downplayed the match’s importance suggesting after the match that he wasn’t making any assessments on the basis of this match. For a man who continuously took notes throughout the match, that would be surprising.

He would have been pleased to see the sharpness of his forwards. It will be the defence that may give him pause. Fatau Dauda came on in the second half. He had to rush out of his goal twice, occasions which against better opposition may have resulted in goals. Given that this was clearly inferior opposition, those are the moments Appiah will be concerned with.

All in all, this was a match we won’t remember next week. We’re feeling good now but it remains to be seen how far form in an exhibition match can travel.



Fans Say Farewell to Stars

This gallery contains 16 photos.

  The Black Stars play a select local side at the Accra Sports Stadium today. The match has been billed as a ‘we are saying goodbye to the fans before we start our European camp and vice versa’ match. Judging by the numbers of fans at yesterday afternoon’s practice session, the organizers have read the […]

Appiah Selects Ghana’s Best for Brazil

Afriyie Acquah hopes 'come rain or shine', his current form sees him in Brazil

Afriyie Acquah hopes ‘come rain or shine’, his current form sees him in Brazil

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.