The World Cup Is The Perfect Place For Ghana To Start Over
1:46 PM EST on November 17, 2022
It’s almost time for the 2022 World Cup. To help get you ready, we will be providing you with precious information about every team in the tournament. You can read all of our World Cup previews here.
Nowhere do soccer fortunes rise and fall as dramatically as they do in the African Confederation. At the start of the 21st Century, Ghana seemed prepared to buck that trend. Though they never laid much of a claim to being the best team on the continent, they found consistent and relative success. Ghana hasn't won the Africa Cup of Nations this century, but they made it at least as far as the semifinals in four consecutive tournaments, from 2008 to 2013. In the years between, Ghana made a habit of strong showings at the World Cup.
The Black Stars qualified for their first World Cup in history in 2006, and proceeded to make it through the group stage before being sent home by Brazil in the round of 16. They returned in 2010, this time advancing all the way to the quarterfinals after beating the United States 2–1 in the first knockout round. That team may have even been a deserving semifinalist, but was unable to make it out of the quarterfinals for insane reasons that we'll discuss later. Ghana did not advance past the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, but at the time that felt like a bump in the road rather than the beginning of a steady decline. They'd been tossed into the Group of Death that year—Germany, Portugal, the United States—and so there was no great shame in failing to make a deep run.
Ghana bounced back with an AFCON finals appearance in 2015, but lost that game to the Ivory Coast on penalty kicks. After that, everything went to shit. The Black Stars finished fourth at the 2017 AFCON, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, bounced out of the 2019 AFCON in the round of 16, and then failed to win a single match at the 2021 edition of the tournament. They finished at the bottom of their group and lost a game to the Comoros, 3–2. And don't take their qualification for this World Cup as evidence that the old Ghana has suddenly come roaring back—the Black Stars got here by drawing Nigeria twice, 0–0 and then 1–1, and advancing based on the away goals rule.
But being in the World Cup is better than not being in the World Cup, and despite the team's recent struggles, the vibe around Ghana need not be one of doom and gloom. For one thing, Ghana is in a manageable group with South Korea, Portugal, and Uruguay. A return to the round of 16 is by no means an impossibility. The team hasn't done much to impress lately, but an optimist can overlook the gaping holes in the squad list and instead choose to focus on the modest collection of burgeoning young talent that Ghana will bring to Qatar. Mohammed Salisu, Mohammed Kudus, Kamaldeen Sulemana, Tariq Lamptey, and Salis Abdul Samed aren't good enough to make the Black Stars a real threat in 2022, but they are all in their early 20s. These guys all finding their footing at the World Cup and charting out a future in which Ghana can recapture some of its past success wouldn't be the worst outcome.
Who Is Their Main Guy?
The obvious answer here would be Thomas Partey, a 29-year-old midfielder who is currently a key piece of Arsenal's league-leading side. But the thing about a player like Partey—a deep-lying midfielder whose main job is to control the game's tempo and knit things together with smart, simple passes—is that they often get on the field with their national team and find that they have fuck-all to do. Guys like Partey glisten when they are playing alongside a collection of world-class players, but their contributions can be severely limited when asked to pilot a team that still has to rely on the damn Ayew brothers to play on the forward line.
So, for those reasons I am deciding that Mohammed Salisu is the main guy on this team. Salisu is a 23-year-old center back who currently plays for Southampton in the Premier League, and he will be the Ghana's most important player on the field. Ghana will have to deal with at least one world-class forward in every single one of its group-stage games, and if they are going to survive the barrage of attacks that will come from the likes of Darwin Núñez, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Son Heung-min, it will be because Salisu stands in their way. Defending in soccer is a team concept, but Salisu is one of those rare center backs who is big enough, fast enough, and coordinated enough to scramble a team's attacking plans all on his own.
Billy actually wrote an entire blog about how good Salisu is after he put the clamps on Manchester City for 90 minutes last season, so you should just go read that post to learn more about him.
Who Is Their Main Scoring Guy?
Brother, I wish I knew. For years the answer to this question was Asamoah Gyan, who scored 51 goals in 107 appearances for the Black Stars and was also the team captain. Gyan was never a star—his club career reached its apex with a 10-goal season for Sunderland in the Premier League—but he was solid and consistent, especially with the national team. The guy played a lot of games, all over the world, and could always be counted on to lead Ghana's forward line. He's the guy who scored the extra-time goal against the USMNT in 2010 to send Ghana to the quarterfinals:
Gyan is 36 now and no longer in the picture for Ghana, and the problem is that Ghana never really found a good understudy to take over for Gyan after he aged out. The Ayew brothers, Jordan and André, have long provided Premier League pedigree, but neither ever really made much of an impression with the national team. They're both in their 30s and solidly on the downslopes of their careers now, too, and are unlikely to provide much spark this time around.
Which brings us to Iñaki Williams, whose very presence on the team speaks to how desperate Ghana is to inject some goals into its attack. Williams, a 28-year-old striker, was born and raised in Spain and has played his entire club career at Athletic Bilbao, where he came up through the academy. He was even called up to the Spanish national team in 2016, but in 2022 he decided to represent Ghana. And when I say "in 2022," I mean like five minutes ago. Williams announced in July that he would be open to a call-up with Ghana, and then made his first appearances for the team in September during a pair of friendlies. As of today Williams has made three appearances for the Black Stars and played a total of 192 minutes in their colors. Despite that, it's entirely possible that he will be the starting striker when Ghana takes the field in Qatar. That's how dang hard up for goals these guys are.
To what extent Williams will be able to assist Ghana in that endeavor remains to be seen, but he's a perfectly respectable mid-table La Liga center forward, and plenty of international teams would be happy to have a guy with his resume on the squad.
Where's The Beef?
Which teams or players does Ghana not like? Do Ghana's players like each other? We investigate their potential enemies.
What greater beef is there than one that pits teammate against teammate? Countryman against countryman? Brother against brother?
You may recall reading about a 20-year-old ass-kicker named Nico Williams in our preview of the Spanish national team, where he was selected by our own Albert Burneko as the player on that squad most likely to go David Ospina or James Rodríguez Mode. Well get this: Nico also plays for Athletic Bilbao, and he is Iñaki's younger brother!
Though it's possible that we will see these two siblings forced to tear each other apart in the crucible of competition at this World Cup, it is also unlikely. The earliest that Spain and Ghana could meet each other is in the quarterfinals. If that does happen, though, Nico would certainly enter the match with a psychological advantage. He's a 20-year-old rising star playing for one of the world's most storied national teams. Is he really supposed to be intimidated by his bum-ass older brother who had to make a last-minute switch to Ghana because he's too old and crummy to hack it for Spain? Yeah right!
Most Likely To Go David Ospina Or James Rodríguez Mode
Who is Ghana's best candidate for a breakout performance that earns them a career-changing transfer? Might this potential post-tournament transfer go well, like when Colombia's James Rodríguez went to Real Madrid after starring in the 2014 World Cup? Or could it go poorly, like when Colombia's David Ospina went to Arsenal after starring in the 2014 World Cup?
There is perhaps no player going to Qatar who will be more focused on going David Ospina or James Rodríguez Mode than Mohammed Kudus. The 22-year-old attacking midfielder currently plays for Dutch giant Ajax, and before this season began he was doing everything he could to get the hell out of Amsterdam. Kudus had good reason to be agitating for a transfer, too: he first broke into Ajax's first-team squad in 2020, and since then has only been able to scratch together a handful of appearances and starts. Kudus's unsettled situation at Ajax had a few Premier League teams sniffing around him during the summer, and at one point he even stopped participating in training in order to force a move. That gambit didn't pay off, though, and when the transfer window closed Kudus was still stuck on Ajax.
That ended up being a fairly positive development for him, though. Kudus still hasn't locked down a solid place in Ajax's starting lineup, but he has done nothing but kick huge amounts of ass when he has gotten on the field. He's already scored five goals in 14 league appearances to go along with four goals and two assists in six Champions League games. This is all great news for Kudus for obvious reasons, but also because he's now much more likely to be sold in January. Ajax prides itself on getting big fat returns on the good young players it develops, and they will be able to demand a much higher fee for a productive and in-form Kudus than a sulking Kudus. So it's in everyone's best interest that he keep things rolling at the World Cup, where he'll have plenty of opportunities to get on the ball and make things happen.
James Rodríguez Mode Probability Score: 72.4
David Ospina Mode Probability Score: 67.3
Fun Geographical Fact
Ghana is located closer to the center of the Earth than any other country on the planet.
Good Flag Or Bad Flag?
I mean, how can anyone argue against a flag that has a big black star in the middle? Flag kicks ass.
Good Anthem Or Bad Anthem?
Sorry, but I'm not feeling this one. It sounds too ... I don't know ... Christmas carol-y?
Notable Moment In World Cup History
This is a notable moment not just in Ghana's World Cup history, but in the entire history of international competition.
After beating the USMNT in the 2010 World Cup round of 16, Ghana headed off to face Uruguay as huge underdogs in the quarterfinal. The Black Stars played their asses off in that game, and took a 1–0 lead into halftime after Sulley Muntari scored a fuckin' banger from damn near midfield. Uruguay got back in the game thanks to a marvelous free-kick goal from Diego Forlán at the start of the second half. The score stayed locked at 1-1 into extra time, at which point it started to feel more and more likely that Ghana was going to score the next goal and become the first African team to ever reach the World Cup semifinals.
And then Luis Suárez, just at the start of his journey to becoming one of the weirdest villains in the sport, decided to do a very smart, very bad thing. At the very end of extra time, Uruguay was scrambling to clear the ball out of its penalty box and Ghana got two point-blank shots on goal. The first was cleared off the line by a defender's foot, and the second was kept out of the goal by Suárez, who just whacked the fuckin' ball with his damn hand!
Everyone lost their minds. Ghana's players were incensed, fans watching around the world were scandalized, and Suárez was sobbing into his shirt after the ref showed him a red card and awarded a penalty kick for Ghana. All the Black Stars needed was for club captain Asamoah Gyan to step up and convert the penalty, and they'd be flying into the semifinal match. Gyan hit the damn crossbar. The game advanced to penalty kicks a few seconds later, and Uruguay won the game on penalties, 4–2. Guh. Man. What an awful way to leave the World Cup.
How Can They Win The World Cup?
Someone just needs to tell Mohammed Kudus that Real Madrid has promised to buy him if Ghana wins the World Cup, and he's bound to score 14 goals.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Ghana had won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2008.