After months of hype, the day is finally here. Ghana will face the U.S. in one of the World Cup’s most highly anticipated matches. For Ghanaians, this game means more than facing the Americans for the third straight time in the World Cup. It’s about firmly stamping itself as a legitimate contender in the tournament and becoming a potential power when it comes to international soccer.
As a Ghanaian-American, growing up I didn’t hear positive things about the Black Stars. My uncles and father spoke about how they always were one of the biggest underachievers in the world and that they could never live up to expectations. At that point in time, they were correct as Ghana had never played in the World Cup and was still in a drought of winning the African Cup of Nations as they hadn’t been champions since 1982. Plenty of fans of the Blacks Stars were upset with Freddy Adu when he chose to represent the U.S. over his native country of Ghana but you couldn’t blame him because they were a much better side then. And in 2002, the US made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup where they lost 1-0 to Germany.
The four-time African Cup of Nations winners debuted in the 2006 World Cup and were in Group E, which featured the Czech Republic, Italy and the United States. They had the youngest team in Germany that year with an average age of 23 years and 352 days. After losing 2-0 in their first match to Italy, they beat the Czech Republic 2-0 and the U.S. 2-1 to make it out the group stage. In the round of 16, a Brazil 3-0 loss saw them knocked out. In the process of their drubbing, legendary striker Ronaldo broke German icon Gerd Muller’s World Cup goalscoring record to reach 15 goals in the globe’s biggest sporting tournament.
In 2010, the World Cup saw Ghana return with a more athletic team and youngsters that just came from winning the U-20 World Cup over Brazil in penalties the previous year in Egypt. With a staunch defense and counterattacking attack that saw striker Asamoah Gyan score two goals, both penalties, the Blacks Stars advanced due to goal difference and would face the Americans once again. With the whole continent supporting Ghana in South Africa, they powered through and defeated the five-time CONCACAF Gold Cup champions 2-1 in extra time thanks to a goal from Gyan. In their quarterfinal, they played a match against Uruguay that will forever live in infamy. Luis Suarez’s handball and red card were followed by a Gyan penalty miss and eventual penalty shootout loss that will haunt the squad forever as they lost the chance to be the first African nation to play in the semifinals of the World Cup. The milestone would’ve made bigger headlines because it was going to be accomplished in the first World Cup played in Africa.
The loss continues to have a residual effect because of the tragedy that occurred last year. Gyan lost his mother in a car crash last November and before she passed away, he made a promise to his mom that he would have a huge impact on his confidence for the future.
“I lost my mum recently and the one thing she said two weeks before she died, she emphasized, was these penalty kicks. I have to respect her decision for me not taking penalties for the team,” said the captain of the Black Stars to media in May.
The 28-year-old admitted that he had to reassess his position for his country’s national team and why he needed to take a hiatus. “Things happen in life. Many players miss penalties. That is why I took time off. Because I was psychologically down. I had to step back to psych myself and then come back to the team.”
Later Gyan stated that when it came to penalty shootouts he would participate but one must wonder that every time he gets in that situation, his mind may be on his blunder from four years ago instead of focusing on the task at hand.
Other players also took time off such as midfielder Andre Ayew, forward Jordan Ayew and midfielder/winger Kevin-Prince Boateng. Ghanaian fans didn’t like how the Ayew brothers especially handled the situation. The sons of African legend Abedi Pele issued a letter to Ghana’s FA about how they did not like how they were treated by the management led by coach James Kwesi Appiah. Since then, all the players came back and made the final 23-man roster that traveled to Brazil.
Appiah has used different formations like the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 during World Cup qualification and friendlies to figure out ways to capitalize on Ghana’s biggest strength and amount of talent, which is in the midfield. Andre, the older Ayew, Boateng and Juventus midfielder/winger/wing-back Kwadwo Asamoah will be the main men to be the creative force for the Black Stars and find ways to incorporate teammates into the attack so that the squad doesn’t rely too much on Gyan to be the only consistent scorer like how they did in the last World Cup. Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Mohammed Rabiu are fighting to see who will be the starting defensive midfielders for Ghana when they face the U.S. Fatau Dadua and Adam Kwarasey are battling for the goalkeeping spot and left back remains a question mark.
Even though a Ghanaian witch doctor claims that he’s the reason why Cristiano Ronaldo continues to struggle with his injury issues, the Black Stars still face a difficult challenge of trying to make it past the group stage for the third consecutive time. In the group of death, they will face tournament favorites Germany and Portugal but it all starts with how they face the U.S. Both teams desperately want to win but Ghana defeating the Americans for a third time will be a great start to help them reach their goal of trying to make a deeper run in the tournament than they did last time.
Being able to advance out of this difficult group will solidify Ghana as one of the best teams in the world and prove that 2010′s quarterfinal appearance wasn’t a fluke.
SEE MORE — Read the Ghana World Cup Preview.