32 Teams in 32 Days: Ghana
Each day between May 10 and the day before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 11, FoxSoccer.com analyst Jamie Trecker will preview each of the 32 teams playing in South Africa and tell you everything you need to know about each nation represented at the world's greatest sporting event.
Nickname: “Black Stars”
Ghana, formerly a part of the British Empire, became the first sub-Saharan country to gain its independence, in 1957. However, due to corruption and mismanagement, the country was plagued by military and civilian coups and had its constitution suspended in 1981. A free election was finally held in 2000, and today Ghana is a constitutional democracy.
Despite ample natural resources — Ghana is the world's leading producer of cocoa — Ghana is heavily dependent on foreign subsidies. It is known for having a good education system, a solid peacekeeping military force and a relatively efficient civil service. But its residents are by any measure poor: the average yearly wage is about $380.
Ghana also has a large diaspora, which has brought its rich textiles and Afro-pop around the planet. In a rarity for West Africa, Ghana also has a free press. It's considered a model country by West African standards.
Ghana hosted the African Nations Championship in 2008, when they finished third. Sounds idyllic, yes? Well, it’s not: Ghanaian football has big problems.
Ghana, like Nigeria, is considered ground zero for match fixing. Declan Hill argues persuasively in his book on the subject (“The Fix”) that Ghana threw their game in the 2006 World Cup to Brazil. And some of their league matches are so transparently fixed — with scores in the double-digits — that it is laughable. Hill, equally persuasively, argues that because Ghanaian football is so corrupt at so many levels, that many young players throw games because they are forced to. Poverty, fraud, hopelessness: these are the very things fixers prey on, and they’re abundant in Ghana.
Ghana also has a little problem with age. Their young players do very well, and it has been suggested more than once that this is because they lie about it in age-eligible competitions (one of the better-known Ghanaians — American Freddy Adu — has been accused of this as well, without proof).
As it does Nigeria, this sadly obscures the fact that Ghana has real talent. Its great players are indeed great. But if Hill is correct — and many believe he is — some of them are also on the take. This is a key story to watch this year.
PAST WORLD CUP SUCCESS: This is the only the second time the Stars have qualified for the Cup. They enjoyed success in Germany, eliminating the U.S. and becoming the only African team to get out of the group stages. They were knocked out by Brazil, 3-0.
REGIONAL SUCCESS: Lots. They are four-time winners of the African Nations Cup (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982) and four-time runners up, most recently this past winter.
LEAGUE OVERVIEW: The 16-team Premier League is one of the better ones in Africa, boasting such legendary sides as Accra's Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko, arguably the most celebrated African club of all time. You also have to love a league that at one time played host to clubs named Mysterious Dwarves, Eleven Wise (Western Show Boys) and Great Olympics. Still, while Ghanaian football is pretty good, see the caveats above.
MANAGER: Milovan Rajevac. On the surface, the Serb is an odd choice for this team — he doesn't have a lot of national team experience, and the experience he does have is provincial. That said, he did lead Ghana to a second-place finish this January.
KEY PLAYERS: Michael Essien (Chelsea) could be the best midfielder in the tournament. Strong, thoughtful and quick, he can create plays and defend with aplomb. John Mensah (Sunderland) and John Pantsil (Fulham) are the key defenders. Both are hard men, and both are very good at breaking pressure. The two other key players are Stephen Appiah (Bologna) and Sulley Muntari (Inter). Appiah is the captain and defensive bulwark; he forms the spine of the team and feeds Essien. Muntari is the co-creator. He'll sit off Essien and flip the ball at the net. Both men are extremely solid.
FIFA RANKINGS: 32nd. Highest ever was 14th (2008), lowest was 89th (2004)
FIRST ROUND OPPONENTS: Germany, Australia and Serbia.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST AUSTRALIA: Weird as it may seem, the Aussies own Ghana, with four wins and a draw in six meetings over the years (4-1-1). The two teams have never met in meaningful competition, however, and all but two of the games were staged on Aussie soil. Most recently, Australia edged Ghana 1-0 at Sydney in 2008. In London two years prior, the Black Stars played them to a 1-1 draw.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST GERMANY: They've only met once, and it was 17 years ago. In 1993 at a Bochum friendly, Germany torched Ghana 6-1.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST SERBIA: Ghana has never played Serbia since it became an independent state. As Yugoslavia, they beat Ghana 3-1 in Seoul way back in 1997.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: With ease. They only lost one game, to Benin, 1-0 away, after running up four straight wins that had already assured them of qualification.
PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO PROGRESS: 50%. This is a tough group, but Ghana should be the second team to advance. They can beat the Aussies, and the Serbs can't score. Germany will give them a headache, but we expect all the African teams to get a boost. Would be a shock if this team did not make the knockout round, at least.
TO WATCH: Essien is the key man here, and his fitness is questionable. He was hurt both with club and country this year and has missed nearly half the season. As he goes, so goes Ghana.
Goalkeepers: Richard Kingson (Wigan), Daniel Agyei (Liberty Professional), Stephen Aholu (Heart of Lions), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars)
Defenders: Samuel Inkoom (FC Basel), Hans Adu Sarpei (Bayer Leverkusen), Lee Addy (Bechem Chelsea), John Mensah (Sunderland), Rahim Ayew (Zamalek), Isaac Vorsah (Hoffenheim), John Pantsil (Fulham), Jonathan Mensah (Granada), Eric Addo (Roda JC)
Midfielders: Dede Ayew (Arles-Avignon), Michael Essien (Chelsea), Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese), Agyemang Badu (Udinese), Stephen Appiah (Bologna), Anthony Annan (Rosenborg), Haminu Draman (Lokomotiv Moscow), Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan), Quincy Owusu Abeyie (Al Sadd), Derek Boateng (Getafe), Bernard Kumordzie (Panionios), Laryea Kingston (Hearts), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth)
Forwards: Prince Tagoe (Hoffenheim), Asamoah Gyan (Rennes), Dominic Adiyiah (AC Milan), Matthew Amoah (NAC Breda)
TOMORROW'S TEAM: Uruguay