ALL eyes will be on glamour boys and hot Group B favourites Ghana when the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament kicks off at an expectant Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on January 20.
Currently in Abu Dhabi preparing at an intensive training camp, Ghana have already been installed as second favourites by the bookmakers to lift Africa’s biggest prize.
The Black Stars will play friendlies against Egypt and Tunisia before arriving in Port Elizabeth late next week to start their bid for honours against the DR Congo.
There has been much flak aimed at Afcon organisers about a lack of pre-tournament publicity and it will be interesting to see how many fans make their way to the stadium for Ghana’s opening match at 5pm.
This is the first game in a double-header that will see Mali take on Niger at 8pm.
Ghana were the darlings of South Africa and Africa in the 2010 Fifa World Cup where they narrowly missed out on the semifinals when they suffered a controversial loss to eventual third-place finishers Uruguay after Asamoah Gyan struck a penalty against the crossbar, which would have seen them into the final four. Ultimately they bowed out in a penalty shootout.
The Black Stars are four-time African champions, but their last victory came in 1992 and they desperately want to add a fifth victory. They are, by and large, a young team, but that’s because their young players, who won the Fifa under-20 World Cup in 2009, are extravagantly gifted.
Ghana’s patchy form in 2012 is a bit of a worry, but the team will surely take a lot from their previous experience and success in South Africa.
Gyan was their top scorer in the Fifa World Cup and he is far and away their leading goal-scorer. His form will be crucial to Ghana’s success.
Despite enjoying the role as one of the pre-tournament favourites, Espanyol midfielder Mubarak Wakaso believes his Ghana team-mates must work their socks off to win the trophy.
The 22-year-old, who is eager to make his debut in the continent’s flagship event, has warned his compatriots to expect tough tests.
“I don’t think the Nations Cup will be easy for us. We have to work hard if we want to win,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
“We’re not going to underrate any team because if we do, it could prove disastrous for us.”
“We all saw what Zambia did. Nobody gave Zambia a chance to win the Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, but we’re witness to their impressive performances,” he added.
The training camp in Abu Dhabi has not been without incident as Black Stars coach Kwesi Appiah dropped Andre Ayew from his squad just days ahead of kick-off.
Appiah said his decision to exclude the midfielder from his plans was hinged on Ayew’s inability to join the Black Stars in time.
The squad is:
Goalkeepers: Adam Larsen Kwarasey (Stromgodset, Norway), Fatau Dauda (AshantiGold), Daniel Agyei (Liberty Professionals)
Defenders: John Paintsil (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel), Harrison Afful (Esperance, Tunisai) Richard Kissi Boateng (Berekum Chelsea), Mubarak Wakaso (Espanyol, Spain), John Boye (Stade Rennes, France), Isaac Vorsah (Salzburg, Austria), Rashid Sumaila (Asante Kotoko), Jonathan Mensah (Evian, France), Jerry Akaminko (Eskisehirspor, Turkey), Mohammed Awal (Maritzburg United, SA)
Midfielders: Emmanuel Agyemang Badu (Udinese, Italy), Anthony Annan (Osasuna, Spain), Rabiu Mohamed (Evian, France), Derek Boateng (Dnipro, Ukraine), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus, Italy), Solomon Asante (Berekum Chelsea), Albert Adomah (Bristol City, England), Christian Atsu (Porto, Portugal).
Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain, United Arab Emirates), Richmond Boakye Yiadom (Sassuolo, Italy), Emmanuel Clottey (Esperance, Tunisia), Yahaya Mohamed (Amidaus Professionals).