On Saturday, two of Ghana’s most promising strikers staged a mini audition for a starting place with the Black Stars come June. Goal assesses how their outputs affect their chances
By Sammie Frimpong
They are both 22 (born within just eight days of each other, in fact) with boyish good looks, play in France, and are desperate to make Ghana’s squad for the 2014 World Cup where each would be only too willing to play Robin to Asamoah Gyan’s Batman.
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Between Abdul Majeed Waris and Jordan Ayew, though, who is the better striker and shows greater promise?
And, in the larger perspective, which would Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah opt to complement Gyan with in the summer should push come to shove?
Well, those questions might have been answered rather effectively albeit temporarily last Saturday evening as the players came head-to-head for the first time in their professional careers in a Ligue 1 game between Valenciennes, the French club at which Waris is on a half-season loan from Russian outfit Spartak Moscow, and Ayew’s Sochaux.
Waris fetched his side the lead from a 51st minute spotkick, but before you dismiss that as an act of opportunism, one might do well to consider the fact that he actually won the penalty himself.
Sochaux, managed by ex-Zambia coach Herve Renard, soon equalised, but Waris was on hand to complete a double, three minutes after an uninspiring Ayew had been taken off, turning in a pass from team-mate Maor Melikson. Of course Sochaux grabbed an equaliser almost immediately but, between his two strikes on the day, Waris could well have notched another, had the opposition's goalkeeper, Yohann Pele, not saved brilliantly from a low effort.
That brace brings to four the tally of goals the Right to Dream Academy graduate has scored in eight appearances since joining the club in January: a respectable average of a goal every other game. And while Les Atheniens’ defensive frailties suggest their new striker’s goals alone may not be able to keep them afloat in their quest for survival this term, Waris is certainly doing his chances of finding a spot in Ghana’s squad for Brazil 2014 much good should he keep finding the back of the net as easily and consistently as he has thus far.
The goals might have dried up somewhat since his move to Russia, following his free-scoring streak enjoyed with Swedish outfit Hacken, but Waris appears to have rediscovered the touch that moved Ghana coach Appiah to hand him his full international debut for the Black Stars' against Sudan in March 2013.
In the months that have followed that making - of appearance - which he duly marked with a goal, by the way - Waris has barely looked back and has since gone on to become an essential cog in Appiah's Ghana juggernaut. A few more caps and two goals later, he could certainly fancy his chances of making the summer’s trip to South America. His double act with regular lead striker Gyan has flourished and seems increasingly promising, clicking particularly well against Egypt in the WCQ playoff first leg in Kumasi which saw Waris grab a goal and Gyan two.
For now, though, Waris appears to have raced ahead, but Ayew's own remarkable fortes provides promise of a keen contest in the months that remain
Ayew has fewer guarantees, as it is. His development at Olympique Marseille, his mother club, has been fitful due to several challenges, some of them his own. His two-month-old loan stint at Sochaux has also reaped very little, as his time at the Stade Auguste Bonal so far has only seen him extend his barren spell in front of goal to some 20 games. Such form has placed his already unsteady role with Ghana in greater jeopardy, as he currently sits behind Gyan and Waris in the pecking order of Appiah's preferred forwards. In many ways, Waris' rise in the Ghana shirt has been catalyzed by Ayew himself. A rush decision to retire from international duty - taken simultaneously with brother, Andre - in the wake of unresolved differences with national team authorities around this time last year allowed Waris to sneak in and thrive, establishing himself to a considerable extent by the time Ayew returned to the fold.
Thus on current form and credibility alone, Ayew probably remains second fiddle to Waris (with whom he is tied on 10 senior caps but has scored a goal less) in the Ghana coach's plans at present, and would be required to back his club form up to regain a favoured standing. As Ayew’s coach at Sochaux, Renard, observed, the youngster still has “some things to fix” to reach his full potential. Whether or not he can do so in time to usurp Waris remains to be seen.
The frame within which both Waris and Ayew are required to prove themselves are quite identical, though, wouldn't you say?
Playing for relegation-threatened clubs in the same league, it is easy to see why the pair could be embroiled in their own battle for a place - a starting place, when zoomed in - in Brazil for Ghana. For now, though, Waris appears to have raced ahead, but Ayew's own remarkable fortes provides promise of a keen contest in the months that remain till the end of the season, by which time Appiah’s final 23-man list might have been drafted and announced.
May the best man win.
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