Group D: Ghana
Promising youngsters replacing crocked veterans has worked for them at the back, but Ghana may not have enough in the final third...
Of the World Cup-qualified sides, only Ghana were remotely impressive at the Cup of Nations in Angola Ã¢ÂÂ a tournament that, in a positive way, raised more questions than it answered for their coach Milovan Rajevac.
Ghana arrived in Angola with low expectations, having lost midfielders Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and Laryea Kingston plus defenders John Paintsil and John Mensah to injury, along with Sulley Muntari for disciplinary reasons. A squad drawn largely from the team that won the U20 World Cup in 2009 blossomed in their absence to reach the final.
The issue now is how to fit the returning absentees back into a team that Ã¢ÂÂ almost uniquely in that tournament Ã¢ÂÂ appeared balanced and coherent, even if they did attract criticism for their supposedly negative style.
Ã¢ÂÂI believe in winning football, in tournaments you have to get results, that is what is important for me and the rest of the team,Ã¢ÂÂ said an unrepentant Rajevac, a Serb who will face his compatriots in a potentially crucial group opener. Ã¢ÂÂWhat is the point of playing around with the ball in your own half if you are not scoring goals? We had to decide on what we wanted to do; whether we wanted to be entertainers or win our matches.
"Considering what we had to deal with before the tournament, we can consider our experiences in Angola a success. The youngsters did well, but they also need guidance and thatÃ¢ÂÂs where the experience of guys like Mensah and Essien and Appiah comes in.Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂ¨It may be that a back four of such youth has never performed as impressively as GhanaÃ¢ÂÂs did in Angola. Sammy Inkoom, a remarkably mature right-back for 20, will surely keep his place ahead of Paintsil Ã¢ÂÂ and while Mensah will presumably be restored at centre-back, Rajevac at least knows that if the Sunderland man's injury problems do continue, Lee Addy and Isaac Vorsah are a fine partnership. Vorsah will presumably switch to left-back at the expense of Hans Sarpei.
They will undeniably miss the drive of Essien, but they have a more fundamental problem: goals. Ghana looked defensively sound in Angola, but only scored four in five games. Asamoah Gyan had an awful 2008 Cup of Nations and while he was back to his leggy best at this year's tournament as an ideal lone front man, he's far from prolific.
Even without Essien, Sulley Muntari should add thrust from midfield, but the creative burden rests largely on UdineseÃ¢ÂÂs 21-year-old playmaker Kwadwo Asamoah. He is a player of immense promise, but this may be a tournament too soon for him.
The black star on GhanaÃ¢ÂÂs shirt, from which they draw their nickname, was a symbol of the pan-Africanism move to independence from the colonial European powers in the 1950s.
The Coach: Milovan Rajevac
There were eyebrows raised when a little-known 56-year-old Serbian, the high point of whose career was leading Borac Cacak to promotion, replaced Claude Leroy in 2008. Nonetheless, he has made Ghana the most tactically intelligent West African team, and has been such a success that a number of other little-known Serbs found themselves alongside the usual suspects in the running for the Nigeria job.
Key Player: Asamoah Gyan
Muntari may have won the Champions League with Internazionale, but it is Gyan Ã¢ÂÂ and more specifically his ability to hold the ball up and create space or others Ã¢ÂÂ that will be key to whether Ghana can progress.
Probable Team (4-2-3-1): Kingson; Inkoom, Mensah, Addy, Vorsah; Boateng, Annan; D Ayew, Asamoah, Muntari; Gyan
Serbia, June 13, 3pm, Tshwane
Australia, June 19, 3pm, Rustenburg
Germany, June 23, 7.30pm, Johannesburg
Qualified Top of Africa Group D
Benin (H) 1-0
Mali (A) 2-0
Sudan (A) 2-0
Sudan (H) 2-0
Benin (A) 1-0
Mali (H) 2-2
World Cup record
2006 2nd Round