Ghana’s three goalkeepers at the World Cup have a grand total of ten caps between them.
The recent breeze of optimism surrounding the Black Stars after their brilliant build up win over Switzerland a week ago will not mask that reality .
Good performances at the World Cup are built on the back of strong goalkeepers -Lloris for France in 2018, Keylor Navas for Costa Rica in 2014, Richard Kingson for Ghana in 2010. You get the point.
Statistically, the trio of Lawrence Ati-Zigi, Abdul Manaf-Nurudeen and Danlad Ibrahim represent the most inexperienced selection Ghana has sent to a World Cup and Ghana coach Otoo Addo will hope a lack of consistency between the goals does not cost his side. He knows the margins between them are thin even in terms of quality.
‘We knew before that the keepers we have at this level are inches apart.
”It’s not like somebody is that far away from the other so they are all at the same level. Sometimes it’s just little details.”
The job of making sure there is no such pain is the afore mentioned Richard Kingson. A veteran of two World Cups including Ghana’s memorable quarter final run in 2010, he is in his second stint as national goalkeepers’ trainer and he will know that but for injuries, at least two of the goalkeepers he has to pick from to start against Portugal would not even be in Qatar.
Kingson takes pride in his discovery and assimilation into the Black Stars of the now injured Jojo Wollacott. He was his undisputed first choice. His other preference was the more experienced Richard Ofori, the former first choice who lost his place due to a combination of injuries and poor form.
Their absence is why he has a dilemma. Let us explore this .
The St.Gallen shot stopper will start the game against Portugal on Thursday and it will not be a topic for debate. For 90 minutes that is.
Ati-Zigi will be buoyed by the knowledge that Otto Addo admires his skill set and has privately wondered why he has not been more involved in the Black Stars set up the past few years. Another advantage is that he accounts for ninety percent of the 10 international appearances shared by the three goalkeepers.
Stylistically he has all the tools required for Addo’s style of play. He is involved in build up play regularly and is comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has a high shot save percentage rate at club level and is comfortable playing a sweeper role. The doubts around him over the years have been over his tendency to concede goals anytime he has manned the goal posts for Ghana. He conceded four in one game at the Kirin Cup amidst national criticism. He can do better with his communication and his concentration levels are not always the best.
He will be the most scrutinised amongst the three.
Manaf might just be the most technically gifted goalkeeper among the three. A graduate of the Aspire academy before making a career at KAS Eupen in the Belgian league, he has length, agility, great feet and communicates well. His one international appearance was also an eventful one as he won Ghana a penalty shoot out during the recent Kirin Cup in Japan.
What counts against him is his lack of game time this season at club level. Manaf is the least involved of the three with only three appearances this season.
However, do not be surprised to see him get a game in Qatar given the fragility of the position at the moment.
The Asante Kotoko stopper has a lot of admirers among the Ghanaian football public. He has played for the country at every age level except the Black Stars. He is an explosive shot stopper with decent organisation and ball playing skills. The biggest debate about him is his lack of height and whether it could become a factor during games at this level. The official tournament database lists him at a generous 1.80m. He is slightly smaller than that. There have been a some remarkable World Cup stoppers who have not been disadvantaged by that. Oscar Perez of Mexico comes to mind.
With the margins so thin between the goalkeepers , performances in that position will be among the most scrutinised and however it goes, Richard Kingson has a dilemma to ponder.