This winter, Ghana will make their fourth appearance at the FIFA World Cup. Having beaten their fiercest rivals from West Africa in Nigeria on away goals to get to Qatar, the Black Stars aren’t coming to the Middle East just to take part, but to compete.
Ghana are back at the World Cup for the first time since 2014, after an eight-year hiatus away from international football. Head coach Otto Addo has stated on numerous occasions that the job is not done yet. Like the rest of the team, he knows getting back to the World Cup stage is a fantastic accomplishment, but it’s only the beginning.
The Black Stars enter this tournament as the lowest-ranked side, placed #61 in the world. Still, this does not represent the quality that the West African side posses and will not deter them from their aspirations going into the inaugural Winter World Cup — Group H presents Ghana with two former World Cup foes. The scars of 2010 and Luis Suárez’ handball still run deep. Revenge is on Ghana’s mind, but they’ll need to be at their best to beat their foes.
The nation has been in quite a conflicting but painful mindset since that infamous exit. The ‘what ifs’ are still ringing around, a belief they did not fully capitalize on what had seemed at the time as one of Ghana’s best football eras. The optimism sparked from the incredible run back in 2010 has quickly dissipated within the nation’s footballing fans. A lack of ambition to push on and build on what is still, to this day, Africa’s best-ever finish at a World Cup.
2014 underlined how distant Ghana was from their former self of four years ago. A tournament plagued with drama and controversy that was a constant distraction from what needed to be done on the pitch. A disconnect between the Ghana Football Accusation (GFA), staff, players and fans is an additional negative.
Fast forward eight years and the structure around the national team has had some shifts, on and off the pitch. Otto Addo encapsulates this new-look Ghana. So let’s have a look at the structural changes that have happened, on and off the pitch:
Breakdown of Ghana’s structure on and off the pitch
The main aspect of Ghana’s revival as a footballing nation has been their structural changes. Out goes Milovan Rajevac, and in comes former Borussia Dortmund defender and first-team assistant coach Otto Addo. Chris Hughton and George Boateng also followed, the former came in as a technical director role, and the latter teamed up with Addo to assist him on the coaching side. These changes were seen as short-term appointments for their qualifiers for this World Cup, but they have overachieved in expectations to the point where short-term revelations have turned into long-term solutions.
Once Ghana qualified for the World Cup, it was clear that Addo and co. were essential for the nation’s World Cup ambitions and moving forward. Addo attracts a lot of respect in football for not just his playing career but his coaching career and the developmental role he has taken up in careers like Jude Bellingham.
In Chris Hughton, you have an individual who Ghanaians have a lot of respect for as a person and, more importantly, as a figure in football. Similarly to Otto, Hughton’s experience at the top level as a coach and manager has been hugely welcomed in the Federation.
On the pitch, Ghana has a group of players who are arguably the most talented collective they’ve had in a long time. Players who currently play at the highest level or have played at the highest level — a nice blend of youthful exuberance with experienced veterans sprinkled with ‘ready to prove’ talent.
A key to Ghana’s squad building has been their ability to attract dual-national players. The Federation has noticed the burgeoning stars yet to forge themselves on the international scene and has poached them to represent their origin country in Ghana. The likes of Iñaki Williams and Tariq Lamptey have switched their minds from representing Spain and England, respectively, and have embraced playing for the Black Stars.
Callum Hudson-Odoi and Eddie Nketiah have been heavily touted to make the dual-national switch. A decision that would be welcomed with great satisfaction not just by the nation and its football fans, who would appreciate players of such quality, but also by the players’ families, who would be undoubtedly joyful for these players to represent their families.
Mohammed Kudus is one player who is Ghana through and through – born in Accra himself. Seen as arguably the nation’s most important player right now — Kudus could be a real breakout star at this Winter World Cup as he epitomises this new-look Ghana on the pitch. Kudus has caught the eye of many avid European football fans with his exploits in the Champions League, with his performances being raved about by many Ghanaian fans and his boss.
Alfred Schreuder has been complimentary of Kudus’ start under his reign. “He also does a lot of good things for us, such as the way he hunts and thus keeps the opponent moving. I like seeing how he does those things,” said Alfred Schreuder. Kudus, a Right to Dream academy graduate, first emerged as an attacking midfielder. Still, under former manager Erik ten Hag, he was deployed as a box-to-box midfielder in the Dutch manager’s final months at Ajax.
Without a doubt, Kudus is the best attacking prospect Ghana have had in about a decade. He is an anomaly for a nation that is recognised for stout, powerful defensive midfielders like Michael Essien and Thomas Partey.
Ghana’s Expectations in Qatar
The feeling around the squad has been one of hesitant optimism. As mentioned, the Black Stars enter as the lowest-ranked team out of all 32 teams at the World Cup (even if that’s not a fair representation of their actual quality). So with less than a few hours to go before Ghana kick off their World Cup campaign against Portugal, the emotions and feelings are noticeable from Ghana fans as a whole, but as always, there is an expectation that comes with the football team.
A tough group is an understatement. It will be difficult for them to qualify for the knockout stages, but it’s not out of the question. There is an expectation for the side to be much more competitive than they were in 2014, finishing bottom of the group with 1 point. The optimism is mainly placed on the quality of the players now within the club, who have this fearless attitude that simply can’t be hated by any football fan.
“Passion. Drama. Intensity. And that’s just the songs the players sing as they come out of the tunnel. The FIFA rankings don’t lie; Ghana are the big underdogs of Group H at Qatar, but every neutral should tune in to see how they face up against Uruguay. It’ll be a group game that is more than a group itself,” said Carl Anka from The Athletic.
There has been a constant motive to stress that they’re not going to Qatar just to get revenge on Uruguay. Still, understandably that will be on the mind, and with such a fearless mindset within the squad right now, revenge might be a fraction of what this Ghana team can really achieve.