How can Ghana qualify from Afcon Group D?

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The Black Stars have big ambitions ahead of the Nations Cup, but must negotiate a tricky group before their dreams can be realised

Ghana will be making their seventh consecutive appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations when the tournament kicks off on January 14, but despite the Black Stars' impressive record in recent campaigns, their wait for a first title since 1982 continues.

This year, once again, the West Africans approach the tournament with the ambition of going all the way.

However, before they can dream about lifting the continental crown, they must navigate Group D, arguably one of the trickiest of the competition, where they will be pitted against record champions Egypt, Mali and Uganda.

While Ghana have the pedigree to finish in the top two, the Stars have their own issues which must be resolved before the tournament kicks off.

Heading into their opener, Avram Grant's men have gone five games in all competitions without a win, with only three goals scored. Two of the games that they struggled in were against Uganda and Egypt, which doesn’t bode well ahead of their three-match group campaign.

Following the draw in October, Grant admitted in an interview with Sky Sports that the Black Stars have some 'tough' customers to contend with if they’re to escape from the group

''We played against Uganda and we drew at home, and we’re facing important game in Egypt, who we will meet again at the Afcon,” Grant continued. “There are two more games against them.

''But the Africa Cup of Nations is different and the draw is very difficult,” he added. “Anyway, every group is difficult but this group is very difficult.

He added: ''As you know, African countries are better all the time. I was very surprised by the level of quality of football at the last Afcon, so I think it will be very tight."

At the last Afcon, Grant needed a moment of magic from Asamoah Gyan to sneak past Algeria and reach the last eight, and the former Chelsea boss will need his big names to be on song again if the Stars are to progress.

However, with both Gyan and Andre Ayew struggling with injury, and with Kwadwo Asamoah excusing himself from international duties to continue his return to full fitness, Ghana are looking worryingly short of star power.

With options reduced, Grant must manage his resources well in order to ensure that the Stars have their best XI out on the pitch and therefore are best placed to advance.

Against Uganda in the opening game, he must take a bold decision and pick Samuel Tetteh over Jordan Ayew. The 20-year-old has proven over the past few months that he's the rightful heir to succeed Gyan in the national team, after scoring goals for fun at his club side.

Grant must keep faith in the former Wafa youngster and use Jordan later on in the game because he will be able to pick up all the loose balls when played behind the experienced Gyan, due to his quick feet and technical prowess.

 

If Grant is bold against Uganda, and picks his in-form hitman, then expect Ghana to set themselves up for a winning start to the Afcon.

After that, come the dual challenges of Mali and Egypt. We’re backing Ghana to revert to the familiar 3-5-2 or 4-5-1 formation against the Eagles and Pharaohs, both of whom have had their fair share of results against the Black Stars.

In the latter system, Grant can go with John Boye, Jonathan Mensah, Abdul Rahman Baba and Harrison Afful in defence, with Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Afriyie Acquah taking the defensive midfield roles and Wakaso Mubarak in a more advanced position.

Dede and Christian Atsu will take charge of the flanks, leaving Gyan to spearhead the attack.

Between 2010 and 2014, Ghana reached the World Cup quarter-finals and three Afcon semi-finals, as well as one final with this approach, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t do so again.

In all three group-stage matches, Grant must improve his decision-making with regards to substitutes in order to get the best out of Ghana’s options.

Against Egypt in the World Cup qualifiers, local fans poured out their frustrations after he brought on Jeffrey Schlupp to replace Thomas Teye Partey at a time when the Stars had gone down 1-0 but were mounting pressure on their hosts. The substitution slowed their tempo and it was little surprise when Ghana conceded another goal four minutes from time.

Similarly, the Stars must settle the players’ bonuses before the tournament begins to avoid a repeat of the 2014 World Cup row, where players boycotted training ahead of their game against Portugal until their money arrived from Ghana.

Rumours are rife in the local media that some of the players have petitioned the country's new government, which took over this week, to review their bonuses.

The previous government pegged the bonus at $8,000 at all stages of the competition but the players are reportedly demanding $10,000 for group stages, $12,000 for reaching the quarter-finals and $15,000 at the semi-finals.

If this situation is not settled on time, it will bring chaos in camp and affect preparations.

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It’s the kind of disruption that the Stars can ill afford.

Ghana may be preparing for a tournament they’ve won four times, and one where they’re perennially considered favourites, but in truth, they aren’t the same side that many have watched with delight in the past.

Grant will know that his side cannot countenance any distractions or complacency—either on the pitch or off it—if they are to progress from the group and keep alive their hopes of winning the Nations Cup.

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