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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #2 For 6/10/14: #15 Ghana

 Photo from Getty Images

Projected Lineup:

                            Dauda (Kwarasey) 

      Inkoom    - Mensah  -    Boye   - Asamoah (Afful) 
           
                                     Rabiu 

                          Muntari   -     Boateng

 J.Ayew/Waris                                             Andre. Ayew

                                       Gyan 
                         
Key bench options: Badu, Essien, Atsu, Mubarak J.Ayew, Wahis

The Runthrough

Man for man, Ghana has one of the most explosive offensive lineup in the tournament. Man for man, Ghana has one of the worst defensive units in the tournament. And it is the latter that will be James Kewsi Appiah defining test as to whether Ghana becomes the first African side to reach the semifinals of a World Cup or suffer a bitterly disappointing early exit. 

For the third straight finals tournament, Ghana are in a massively difficult group. But in both Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, they passed them with flying colors. And with their UEFA rivals Germany and Portugal dealing with injury issues, the Black Stars will further fill confident that they could not only advance out of Group D but even top it. However, if they don't get their huge defensive issues straight out, they could start off their tournament at the hands of a revenge defeat to the United States. 

The entire Ghanian nation is majorly concerned about how a defensive with no establish stars is even on the same field as their offensive juggernauts. It has gotten to the point that Appiah has considered both Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah to start in defense against the U.S on June 16th. It appears that Evian 23-year-old Jonathan Mensah will be partnered with 27-year old John Boye at the key centerback positions. Boye struggled to find time all season for Rennes while Mensah showed this season in Evian's struggles in Ligue 1 that he just has much more maturity to go in his game to be a stalwart in the back. 

23-year-old Daniel Opare is a solid right back who played a big role in Ghana beating Brazil in the 2009 U-20 World Cup Final, but looks set to lose out on the starting lineup to Samuel Inkoom. Inkoom though will be questioned after failing to make the cut so far at Dnipro and bouncing around both Ligue 1 (with Bastia) and the Superleague Greece ( at Platanias) in the last year. With the massive struggles at leftback, Asamoah may have to be the choice for Appiah. The Juventus star wide man is versatile enough to play that position with his ability to track back a staple for Antonio Conte's Serie A three peat champions. But moving Asamoah to the back will take away from the top class attacking skills he brings whenever played in his natural spot. He still appears to be a better option that the unfortunately but fittingly name Harrison Afful, who may get the nod in the end and have Asamoah return to left midfield. 

Even more of a concern for Appiah is how shaky at goalkeeper Ghana are.  Though Steven Adamas, Adam Kwarasey, and Fatau Dauda are under 30, none of them elicit full confidence and are arguably the worst set of goalkeepers in the tournament. Dauda looks set to get the nod, but even that uncertainty at net doesn't stop the confidence and massive ability this side will still display. 

But if Appiah can just have his defense concede just one or two clear chances of the match, then the rest of Group D and the whole tournament will have to watch out.  The attacking options are so great that U-20 World Cup stars Richmond Boakye and Frank Acheampong couldn't even come close to making the final 23. Motivated captain Asamoah Gyan wants to put a close on his Al-Ain money making days and have an emphatic tournament to return to prominent UEFA league play. 24-year-old Andre Ayew finished off the year superbly with Marseille, but has nothing on the form that his younger brother Jordan is in. All he did was almost save Sochaux from relegation in Ligue 1 and replaced an injured Majeed Waris with a hat trick in Ghana's 4-0 sendoff victory over Korea Republic in Miami. 

Although the Spartak Moscow property and Valenciennes scoring machine in 2014 could be a doubt for the opener, Jordan Ayew has a bit more upside than his fellow 22-year-old mega talent and couldn't be a finer replacement option for Appiah to call upon. 

Udinese electric winger Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu is also deserving of effusive sentences. Already winning 49 caps with his nation at just 23, Badu may play a bit more of a defensive role for Appiah's side this World Cup but is capable of producing the goods whenever.  

Other great young talents such as Vitese and Chelsea man Christian Atsu (22), Rubin Kazan winger Wakaso Mubarak (23)  and Parma defensive midfielder Afriyie Acquah (22) display just how rich the production factory is in the Black Stars nation. But they aren't taking global stars Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari's spots away that easily. 

Muntari continues to showcase how he still an impressive all around midfield at the highest level. His sweat left foot, athletic range, and always underrated smooth passing make him still a key force in his third World Cup. His ability to also avoid major injuries is a contrast to how his good friend Essien has had the misfortune of dealing with in his career. While Muntari stayed at Milan (and Essien arrived there for needed playing time), Boateng made the surprise move to the Bundesliga with Schalke and it payed off in dividends. His injection of power and speed helped propel Schalke to a strong third place finish and will continue to be a major terror in the midfield to any side if he controls his emotion. And of course Essien, in what could easily be his final World Cup, looks to have 100% health for a change and will always be a factor against any team if available. 

Outside of the Ivory Coast, this is the only African side with a realistic chance of going into the second week of July in Brazil. After years of vastly underachieving, the nine years and three World Cup cycles have shown the world how much of a powerhouse Ghana can be on the global stage. 

But without the likes of John Mensah providing top class defending, the backline is what will make or break Ghana's massive expectations this summer. Appiah must find a way to give his nation some structural pragmatism instead of falling into a "our defensive is our offensive scoring goals" mode. If they can do that, it will be another, enthralling World Cup Finals run that the Black Stars will take their nation and the whole world on. 

Under The Radar, Key Players: 


Mensah: At age 23, Jonathan Mensah will have the responsibility of getting Ghana a defense. He has the potential to play like his namesake John Mensah (although unrelated), but will be the key person of the four backline members that will determine Ghana's summer.  
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