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World Cup 2014

Group G Preview: Taking a Close Look at Ghana

For the third consecutive World Cup, the United States men's soccer team will face a Ghana team that seems to have its number. Can the Yanks defeat their African enemies? Jon Arnold takes a close look.

BY Jon Arnold Posted
December 09, 2013
1:16 PM
Editor's Note: American Soccer Now will be all over Group G and the entire World Cup experience from this day forward. We now have early looks at Germany and Portugal ready for you.

ESSENTIALS

Every American soccer fan knows Ghana (6pm Eastern, June 16; ESPN) as the team that eliminated the U.S. from the last two World Cups—a 2-1 win in extra time during a round of 16 match in 2010, and a group stage win by the same margin in 2006 that kept the Stars and Stripes from reaching the knockout round. (Ghana also defeated the U.S. under-20 team, 4-1, at the 2013 U-20 World Cup.)

The Black Stars are renowned for their talent and speed, and as soon as they were drawn into Group G with the Germans, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the West African nation that has quirkily become a U.S. rival would be on the slate in 2014. If the past triumphs weren't enough to convince U.S. fans, Ghana is currently ranked as the second-best team in Africa and is ranked 24th overall in the FIFA rankings.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Ghana breezed through the first stage of Confederation of African Football qualification, scoring the most goals of any team and missing out on points just once (a 1-0 loss to Zambia) in the group portion. Then, the Black Stars dispatched former U.S. coach Bob Bradley's Egypt team in the two-legged playoff. A 6-1 win in the home leg basically sealed qualification, and the team avoided collapse by losing 2-1 in Cairo for a 7-3 aggregate victory.

THE COACH

James Kwesi Appiah, a former Black Star himself, has led the team since the summer of 2012 after a surprise promotion after Goran Stevanovic was fired for failing to win that year's African Cup of Nations. Stevanovic was the third foreign coach Appiah worked under and the former left back has become an outspoken supporter of African coaches leading African teams. A fourth-place finish in this year's African Cup of Nations didn't see Appiah fired, likely because of the focus on World Cup qualification results. Aside from this job, Appiah hasn't led any major teams, though he did spend time learning from coaches throughout Europe, including those at Manchester City.

KEY PLAYERS

  • Asamoah Gyan, the man who scored the goal to eliminate the U.S. in 2010, likely needs little introduction, though perhaps some people will need a refresher. He moved from Sunderland to Al Ain in 2011 and still represents the UAE-based team at the club level. That makes him no less potent of a scoring threat for Ghana, scoring 39 goals in 77 career appearances for the Black Stars. He also seems more focused than ever, earning the captain's armband in recent matches.

  • The Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, are also potent up front, with the elder, Andre, likely to make a move to one of the world's giant clubs if Marseille can't shell out the cash. He's probably more likely to play wide for the Black Stars with another capable forward, Majeed Waris, on the other side.

  • In the midfield, there's a similar glut of talented, young players with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Kwadwo Asamoah on the rise and likely to learn from the experience of Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari.

  • With all that attacking firepower, Ghana's defense seems like it could be exploited by the U.S. and the other Group G teams, but the reality is the unit has grown strong and is often the key to springing the Ghanaian attack.

  • In goal, there are no international Ghanian superstars, but Fatau Dauda, who joined the Orlando Pirates this year, has experience with the national team and is serviceable between the posts. However, the transfer to the South African side hasn't gone as planned with Dauda finding it difficult to get off the bench to earn first-team reps. This has caused some Ghanians to call his ability to be the team's backstop in Brazil into question.

    TACTICS

    Ghana typically plays a lone striker up top, which will likely be Gyan, and puts two wingers wide to support him in the attack (usually Waris and Andre Ayew). Whether in the 4-1-4-1 it played against Egypt or the 4-2-3-1 it also utilized in 2013, the team relies on the central midfielders to protect the back line and look to hit on the counter attack early and often.

    WORLD CUP HISTORY

    After beating the U.S. in the Round of 16 in 2010, the Ghanians faced Uruguay in a match best remembered by Luis Suarez being sent off for using his hands to stop Dominic Adiyiah's header. If the extra-time shot had gone in, Ghana likely would have advanced. Instead, the match went to penalties, and Uruguay won the penalty shootout, 4-2, to advance.

    In 2006, Ghana advanced from Group E and was greeted with a match against Brazil, which it lost 3-0.

    The Black Stars have qualified for the last three World Cups but had never qualified before 2006.

    THEY SAID IT

    "It's nice to meet Germany, and also USA, who we beat in Round of 16 in 2010. We are a better team than in 2010 and I'm sure there will be a lot of surprises in this group. Once you are prepared to go to the World Cup, you must be prepared to face any team that comes your way. If you want to win the World Cup, you need to beat all the teams in your group." –Kwesi Appiah

    "It happens to us always, the most difficult group, the Group of Death, but we have a good selection to rival any team. We don’t fear Germany, Portugal, or even the United States. Ghanaians can be rest assured we will qualify and make the country proud again. There is great teamwork and coordination among us, so we will work hard." —Asamoah Gyan

    "You can see that wishes do come true. It's the draw of my dreams. I can't wait to face my brother (Jerome, who represents Germany) at the World Cup. It will also be great to face my Schalke teammate Jermaine Jones." —Kevin-Prince Boateng

    FORECAST

    The United States faces Ghana first, and must get a result against the Ghanaians. There could be trouble on the flanks for the Americans, with some tough matchups posed by the wingers and fullbacks, but the U.S. is used to playing counter-attacking teams.

    The pressure will be heavy on both squads, especially as both will be desperate for all three points knowing matches with Portugal and Germany, in addition to long stretches of travel, await. Barring injury to one of the team's major stars, there's nothing that tips the scale massively in either team's favor, and you could see either advancing out of the group or crashing out with a disappointing exit. It really could go either way, and it will be fun to discuss the possible scenarios of each in the six months to come. With that in mind, the match will be critical for both teams and should provide neutrals with plenty of excitement. It will be easy on the neutral fans' eyes, and it will no doubt be rough on partisan's nerves.

    What do you think of the United States' chances against Ghana? Tell us below, and keep an eye out for similar portraits of Portugal and Germany over the next 24 hours.
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