The duo were U-20 World Cup champions with the Black Stars—bright talents in a generation that also featured Jonathan Mensah, Mohammed Rabiu and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu—and when both were named in the 2014 Africa Cup of Nations squad, there were few (if any) teams on the continent who could rival Ghana for strength on the right side of the defence.
Inkoom was replaced by Harrison Afful in the squad for the 2014 World Cup as his stagnation began, and by the time of the 2015 Nations Cup, neither he nor Opare were a part of Avram Grant’s plans.
Indeed, Opare hasn’t represented Ghana since starting for the Black Stars in their World Cup 2014 opener against the United States—before duly being supplanted by Afful.
It’s a reality that could not have been anticipated three years ago, when the wideman had just signed for FC Porto and appeared primed for a career near the pinnacle of the game.
Back in 2007, Opare was named by World Soccer magazine as one of the 50 Most Exciting Teenagers on the planet, and amidst his recent struggles, it’s become easy to forget just how highly rated he was as a youngster, with the Daily Mail once reporting that he was being scouted by Arsenal.
After progressing from Ashanti Gold to Sfax, he was signed by Real Madrid in 2008—a rare nod of recognition for one of the continent’s most exciting talent.
His speed, of course, caught the eye, but also notable was Opare’s irresistible ability to consistently send in devastating crosses.
Opare also had a sure tough for one so young, positioned himself well and, perhaps most importantly for a modern full-back, had the kind of engine that would allow him to get up and down the right side for the duration of a contest.
Kyle Walker moved to Manchester City for an astronomical fee this summer, while Serge Aurier has been feted as Africa’s finest right-back, but a season or too ago, it was Opare who demonstrated—in abundance—the kinds of qualities that have made the two aforementioned players such coveted talents.
One of the concerns around the Black Stars squad during Grant’s tenure was a lack of competition for Afful at right-back.
Admittedly, the Columbus Crew man impressed more often than not with his committed and intelligent displays, but rarely was his place ever in threat—despite the debuts of Phil Ofosu-Ayeh and Andy Yiadom—and the question of a successor (Afful is 31) had begun to loom large.
While it was the wrong move at the wrong time, Kwesi Appiah perhaps recognised this when he perplexingly decided to start Joseph Attamah in the recent World Cup qualifying draw with Congo-Brazzaville.
Putting that decision into context, it was the first competitive game Afful had missed since Opare started against the US in Brazil in 2014!
Appiah, still seeking a solution, has opted to name Opare in the Black Stars’ must-win qualifier against Uganda this week—handing the right-back a second chance that many had doubted would ever come.
After signing for Porto ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Opare’s career took a remarkable downturn.
He established himself with Standard Liege in the Belgian Jupiler League—that marvellous incubator of African talents—but his progress was halted by injuries and after just six months of inactivity in Portugal, he was loaned to Besiktas.
Opare adapted well to life in Turkey—memorably starring against Liverpool when asked to play out of position as a left-back to deal with the dual threat of Adam Lallana and Javier Manquillo—but injuries afflicted his progress again after he left the Portuguese giants to sign for Augsburg in 2015.
Last season was again largely a write-off after the versatile defender picked up an injury in preseason, although there were signs—after he was loaned to Lens—that he could yet beat the injury bug.
Putting Opare’s misfortune into context, he played just 867 minutes of first-team top-flight football—across Portugal, Turkey and Germany—between the 2014 World Cup and the beginning of this season.
Lately, however, after starting the season as Augsburg’s first-choice right-back—there have been signs that he can yet return to his best.
Of the Fuggerstadter’s seven league games to date, Opare has started five games—playing 90 minutes in each—conceded just three goals, keeping three clean sheets.
Afful's absence costs Ghana w/Attamah's error as he's dispossessed.
Where did it all go wrong for Opare & Inkoom!? Ghana had RB sown up. — Ed Dove (@EddyDove) September 1, 2017
Offensively, he hasn’t yet flexed his muscles as he did so consistently in Belgium—understandable considering his extended absence, the increased competition, and Augsburg’s relative status—but defensively, he’s excelled.
He’s in the top 25 in the division for interceptions per match, and joint 26th for clearances per match, prompting optimism that Augsburg could do for Opare—albeit at a later stage of his career—what they did for Abdul Rahman Baba.
Few Ghana fans go into this international break expecting that the Black Stars can still overhaul Egypt and clinch a place in Russia. However, Opare’s recent form—and his return to the fold—prompts optimism that the 26-year-old may yet realise the undoubted promise he demonstrated as a youngster.
With Afful set to miss the Uganda game due to injury, Opare should have the ideal opportunity to demonstrate exactly what he can still offer the national side this weekend.