Ghana's trump card in its fourth FIFA World Cup adventure in Qatar is that it has a solid technical team, which is more scientific than superstition. Moreso, the demon that bedevilled the Black Stars' promising campaign in Brazil 2014 seems to have been exorcised.
Having relegated the thorny issue of religious beliefs and player bonuses to the background, indications are that the Stars will shine again in Qatar as they did in their first two Mundial outings at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. Even in its worst experience in Brazil due to the infamous appearance fee brouhaha, Ghana did not disgrace itself on the field of play as it exited the tournament with the enviable record of playing the best game of the tournament against the eventual champions, Germany.
Coincidentally, the man who scouted the Ghanaians for Coach Kwasi Appiah in that rubber match that ended 2-2 in Fortaleza is the current Ghana coach, Otto Addo. Coach Addo, who incidentally was part of Ghana's debut World Cup squad in his native Germany, has been widely described by pundits as a rookie for good reasons. Apart from tasting the Mundial as both a player and a scout, this will be the first time he will be leading a team to the FIFA World Cup as the main man.
Quite contrary to public opinion, this could be the surprise element for Ghana at the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. Otto's national team background, coupled with his sensitive role as a transitional coach and a scout in Borussia Dortmund, clearly defines him as a student of the modern game, same as his assistants, George Boateng, Mas-Ud Didi Dramani, and the technical director, Chris Hughton. These are men of few words who prefer to let their results speak for them.
For instance, how these four technical brains turned the tide in their favour in the crunch World Cup playoff against a highly-fancied Super Eagles side in March should be enough signal for Ghana's opponents. Even after the Black Stars' poor showing against Brazil and Nicaragua, which saw them losing 0-3 and winning 1-0 respectively last September, Coach Addo did not put up a defence but humbly admitted his mistakes and rather saw the setback as a learning curve to help build a more formidable team for the Qatar campaign.
It is this telepathy among the technical team and consistency in player selection that could still do the trick for Ghana in the tight Group H, which has all three opponents rated high above them. Currently, Portugal, which is considered among the favourites of the tournament, is rated ninth in the FIFA rankings, while Uruguay and South Korea are 14th and 28th respectively. Unfortunately, Ghana is placed 61st, which also makes it the lowest-ranked team in this year's tournament.
However, much as statistics play a key role in the modern game, history has also proved that high-ranking teams do not always have their way at the World Cup. A case in point was at Germany 2006 where Ghana shocked better-ranked teams like the Czech Republic and the USA to qualify after losing 0-2 to Italy in the opening group game. Similarly, another surprise package awaited 2014 champions, Germany, who nearly tasted defeated at the hands of Ghana in a tournament which saw them humiliate host nation, Brazil, 7-1 in front of the home fans on their way to winning their fourth world title.
But for Luis Suarez's mischief in South Africa 12 years ago, the World Cup narrative would have been different for Ghana and Africa as a whole as the Black Stars ran riot against better-rated opponents such as Serbia and the USA, after drawing 1-1 with Australia in another cagey encounter. This is the rich history the current generation hopes to build on in Qatar. Ghana has the men to cause an upset despite the underdog tag. Despite having adequate preparation time, the team seems to have quality in-depth, with standby players such as Joseph Paintsil, Jeffrey Schlupp, Majeed Ashimeru, Felix Afena Gyan and others all being potential starters.
Notwithstanding the hullabaloo surrounding the selection of the final 26-man squad, Coach Addo and his colleagues deserve a pat on the back for their tenacity and focus on the bigger picture. A closer look at Otto Addo's call-ups since assuming duty in February reveals a consistent trend, which gives little room for outsiders. But for the recent introduction of a few players who switched nationality, the character of the team would not have changed much.
However, the inclusion of the likes of Inaki Williams, Tariq Lamptey, Mohammed Salisu and the rest has not changed the team's game plan but has rather enriched the 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 3-5-1-1 variations with more options to the coaches.
Combining a strict rule of consistency in national team games, tactical discipline and high performance at the club level, the Stars technical team left no room for compromises, leading to the selection of a compact 26-man team, which they believed could make the nation proud in Qatar. Under the current circumstance, the only exception to the rule might be France-based Salis Abdul Samed and Kamal Sowah of Belgium, whose exceptional performances for their clubs cannot be overlooked. Aside from that, Salis' role as a defensive midfielder is crucial to the Ghana team, the same as Sowah whose presence will beef up the attack, which is the weakest link. Just like the attack, goalkeepers Jojo Wollacott and Richard Ofori are not convincing enough. However, the midfield is rich with talents such as Thomas Partey, Mohammed Kudus, Daniel Kofi Kyereh, Baba Iddrisu, Salis, Alidu Seidu, Osman Bukari, Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, while the defence is equally solid with top performers such as Daniel Amartey, Denis Odoi, Tariq Lamptey, Gideon Mensah, Alexander Djiku, Mohammed Salisu, Joseph Aidoo and Baba Abdul Rahman.
All other things being equal, the final team to be named by Otto Addo today is expected to be balanced enough to meet the demands of the World Cup. As he confessed after the Brazil test, Otto has learnt their lessons going into the final friendly against Switzerland in Abu-Dhabi on Thursday. He is, therefore, expected to make no room for experiments as he did against Brazil but tests his probable line-up for the group opener against Portugal on November 24 in Thursday's exercise.
Assistant Coach, Didi Dramani, summed up the Stars' resolve to excel in Qatar by saying that the team would be ready for the tournament after the game against the Swiss. In that case, Ghanaians will expect to see an inspiring dress rehearsal from the Black Stars on Thursday to raise their hopes for another memorable Mundial experience in the coming weeks.
The Ghanaian contingent is scheduled to resume camping in Abu Dhabi today to finalise preparations for Switzerland, before flying to Doha on Friday for their fourth World Cup campaign.
Key Players: Andre Ayew, Thomas Partey, Mohammed Kudus, Mohammed Salisu, Daniel Amartey, Inaki Williams
Coach: Otto Addo
November 24: Portugal v Ghana
November 28: South Korea v Ghana
December 2: Ghana v Uruguay