ACCRA, Ghana (AP) - Ghana came awfully close to being the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals, its progress halted by a handball from Uruguay striker Luis Suarez and Asamoah Gyan’s miss from the resulting penalty.
Midfielders Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who both took extended breaks from international duty after 2010, have returned to bring the squad back to full strength.
The Ghana team left South Africa as the toast of the continent four years ago, but has struggled to live up to that promise between the World Cups, losing to Zambia and Burkina Faso in the semifinals of the 2012 and 2013 African Cup tournaments.
And then there’s the opposition in the group stage: Germany, Portugal and the United States.
Kwesi Appiah, a former national team captain who is coaching at his first World Cup, faces a serious challenge just to get Ghana into the second round.
“It’s a tough group but if you’re going out there for a competition then you have to have the ultimate ambition, which is to win it and be prepared for any team you come up against,” Appiah said. “For me, once you’ve gone through the first games and qualified then the confidence levels increase and for that reason you have to have the mentality that you cannot be afraid of anyone.”
Essien and Boateng give Ghana vital big-game experience, with Essien’s form possibly the key. The AC Milan midfielder missed the 2010 tournament with injury and despite his success at club level, some critics aren’t convinced he has fully delivered on his potential for his country.
Gyan is the team’s leader from the front, and there’s also Juventus midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah, Marseille winger Andre Ayew and young Russia-based Wakaso Mubarak, who was outstanding as an attacking midfielder in the last African Cup of Nations.
Almost all Ghana’s best players play in foreign leagues, making World Cup preparations sometimes problematic. But Appiah sees the experience of the European leagues as an advantage.
“All of my players are at very good clubs so there’s no reason to be cautious,” Appiah said. “We’re going there full of confidence.”
Ghana’s government has pledged nearly $10 million to help the players’ preparations in Brazil, a small fortune for an African team. The financial injection and the success of 2010 mean very big things are expected this time around.