As Ghana prepare to host Egypt in their final 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier over the coming weekend, Black Stars head coach Kwesi Appiah would surely be looking well beyond a result that won’t revive his team’s already failed quest to reach Russia anyway.
Appiah’s focus should instead be on using the match as a springboard toward building a solid future for the national side, particularly looking out for characters that would present themselves as key assets in the realization of those objectives. Here’s a likely shortlist:
It’s been a while since Ghana had a top, top goalkeeper whose presence between the sticks inspired confidence in every Ghanaian, with retired Black Stars glovesman Richard Kingson proving the last of such a breed. Under Kingson’s tutelage as the Stars’ current goalkeepers’ trainer, though, another Richard — surname Ofori — is steadily staking his claim to the vacant throne. The Maritzburg United custodian has seen his stock soar ever since impressing for the Stars in the Afcon 2017 match for bronze when Avram Grant was still boss. In the months after the Israeli’s departure, Ofori has usurped Grant’s favorite, Razak Brimah, and made the role his own. He continues to glow, give or take a few rough edges, and would likely keep the brilliance up against Egypt, giving Appiah absolutely no excuse not to make the 24-year-old a defensive cornerstone. Commanding the rearguard well and keeping the ball out of goal with nearly as much efficiency, there aren’t many boxes Ofori doesn’t tick.
Whatever is happening with Thomas Partey isn’t bad at all. It’s made him a guaranteed regular for Atletico Madrid this season, an increasingly indispensable figure for the Black Stars, and an unlikely yet surprisingly consistent source of goals for both. After his recent exploits for club and country, it’s pretty obvious to any fool that Partey is setting himself up nicely to be Ghana’s next midfield general and thus ought to be a sine qua non if Appiah’s Ghana 2.0 is to be a success — and, of course, Appiah is no fool. Partey would miss the Egypt game through suspension, yes, but out of sight doesn’t really mean out of mind, does it?
That Ghana had a forward like Dwamena but had relied for so long on striking options that only flattered to deceive is simply baffling. On the handful of occasions the Red Bull Academy graduate has represented the country — all under Appiah — he hasn’t failed to make his mark. His first game against Ethiopia was marked by two goals any poacher would be proud of; his last, but for some controversial refereeing, should have seen him register a late strike to sustain the Stars’ now-dead Fifa World Cup qualifying quest for at least another 90 minutes. Against Egypt, expect Dwamena to serve Appiah one more reminder as to why he, though only 22, is the likeliest man to lead the line for Ghana in the foreseeable, Asamoah Gyan-less future.
If any member of the national team’s old guard is worth surviving the overhaul many Ghanaian fans have asked head coach Appiah to undertake, it’s probably Atsu. At just 25, it’s surprising the former FC Porto star is already a 42-game capped international and has already established himself as a regular for an elite English Premier League side. So often the brightest on the pitch for Ghana in recent years and not quite yet at his peak, Atsu is well-placed to become a central figure for Ghana going forward. When he makes that right flank his own versus Egypt, that much would be obvious — again.
Rife gossip has it that Kwesi Appiah’s biggest strengths lie in identifying promising talents, also that he isn’t adequately on top of tactical affairs. If so, he has just the ideal lieutenant in first assistant Ibrahim Tanko. No disrespect to Appiah, but Tanko is a more refined tactician, having cut his teeth in a German system where the somewhat elementary 4-4-2 Appiah and Ghanaians are enamoured of isn’t exactly bread and butter. If Appiah is to succeed, he needn’t only tap into Tanko’s wealth of knowledge, but should go a step further to entrust him with greater responsibility. Tanko may not be out there on the pitch, but he is every bit as crucial. Thus starting with the Egypt game, with the stakes not-so-high, the ex-Borussia Dortmund star’s presence must be felt — and not just in Appiah’s shadows.
Source: Sammy Frimpong