The Black Stars return to the global showpiece in what is a repeat of the final game in their previous appearance in 2014

Depending on whom you ask, Ghana’s chances at the 2022 World Cup are either optimistic or gloom-ridden. There are no in-betweens.

The Black Stars return to the global showpiece after missing out four years back with a meeting against familiar opposition in Portugal, although both sides have changed since they faced off eight years back.

Cristiano Ronaldo was still in his prime, fresh from ending Real Madrid’s 12-year La Decima wait in the Champions League, scoring a staggering 17 times en route to that triumph over Atletico Madrid.

Pooled in the same group with eventual world champions Germany, the West African nation was fighting a losing battle even before their opening game against the United States of America. Their 2-1 defeat by the USA meant they needed to be perfect against both European heavyweights to advance, an eventuality that never materialised.

It was not for the want of trying, though, with a creditable 2-2 draw against Germany followed up with a late 2-1 loss versus the Selecao that confirmed elimination. Ronaldo was the match-winner, latching on to Fatau Dauda’s error between the sticks to slot home his side’s second with 10 minutes remaining.

It was not enough for the Portuguese, who exited the finals despite finishing with four points, owing to their inferior goal difference.

For the Selecao, it was a disappointment to fail to make it out of the groups for the first time since 2002. For Ghana, it represented the end of an era after their heroics in South Africa four years earlier.

The Black Stars return to the world stage without Asamoah Gyan, whose big-game prowess proved crucial in their 2010 exploits, looking to match or possibly surpass that generation.

Otto Addo’s belief in this squad is all well and good, especially as they have come a long way since that embarrassing Africa Cup of Nations exit, but challenges abound, nonetheless.

The Black Stars’ final 26-man selection is without first-choice goalkeeper Joe Wollacott, and his expected replacement, Richard Ofori, also misses out. That leaves Ghana with an obvious question mark over Addo’s goalkeeping selection, although Lawrence Ati-Zigi is expected to be the team’s custodian in Qatar.

Perhaps the greatest challenge will be further forward where goals have been few and far between for Addo’s preferred starters. Jordan Ayew is yet to open his Premier League account in 2022-23 despite starting 11 of 14 appearances so far, while Andre has scored only one goal for Qatari side Al-Sadd since September.

Despite the fanfare that accompanied Inaki Williams’ allegiance switch to Ghana, the Athletic Club frontman still awaits his first goal for the country. In truth, an analysis of the attacker indicates he is not a reliable source of goals, evidenced by five La Liga goals in 14 appearances going into the World Cup and hitting double figures once in his club career—13 top-flight goals for Athletic Club in 2018-19.

Mohammed Kudus was not involved in Ghana’s 2-0 win over Switzerland last week but the recent evidence suggests the Ajax man’s purple patch is over, and it was never going to be sustainable.

Daniel Afriyie started against the Swiss last time out, but one goal in four league games for Hearts of Oak is unspectacular, while last term’s eight-goal return from 25 starts is effectively a goal-in-three ratio that may not suffice.

The quartet of Antoine Semenyo, Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, Kamaldeen Sulemana and Kamal Sowah have hitherto scored a combined four times in league football, with the latter yet to score for Club Brugge this term despite enjoying a few impressive Champions League nights for the Belgian outfit.

Progress is far from assured for Ghana but they face a far less daunting proposition on their return to the World Cup than they did eight years back. South Korea and Uruguay are by no means easy opposition, while Ronaldo is no longer the walking talking scoring statistic from 2014.

The Selecao are undoubtedly far more talented this time than when both sides last met and are favourites to top the group. But Group H could be blown wide open if the Black Stars record one of the competition’s biggest shocks on Thursday.

They must look past their limitations and have the self-belief to make that happen.

Source: Goal

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