It was an ideal return to the role of head coach for Kwesi Appiah, who was appointed as Avram Grant’s replacement on April 4. The 56-year-old will surely have been targeting a strong start and maximum points against the Walias—a team who can cause trouble on their day—but his side ended up far exceeding expectations.
It was a rampant performance, where Ghana not only took all three points, but also did so in some style.
The win was vital, of course, but I’d argue that the biggest positive to take from Sunday’s showing was the panache of the Black Stars’ success.
They didn’t just win, they did so in style.
This, of course, was one of the big qualms of Avram Grant’s tenure as head coach of the national side.
He may have overachieved during his first Nations Cup—helping Ghana bounce back from their miserable World Cup campaign to reach the final—but he struggled to build on that success, despite returning to the semi-finals in Gabon earlier this year.
In Equatorial Guinea two and a half years ago, Grant’s side—admittedly without Asamoah Gyan for several key matches—turned in some stodgy performances, with the exception of the first half against Equatorial Guinea and some exciting spells against Guinea.
In the intervening years, there weren’t too many big performances of note, with one exception being the lowly 7-1 triumph against lowly Mauritius in June 2015.
Ghana struggled to put away some of the continent’s lesser sides—memorably requiring a late Mubarak Wakaso free kick to beat Rwanda in Kigali in September 2015—and it wasn’t until their showing against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Afcon 2017 quarter-final triumph that Grant’s side again brought their collective class to bear.
It was one of the great criticisms of Grant’s tenure that despite the quality at his disposal, he wasn’t able to forge a team that could outclass, outgun and overpower their opponents.
In his defence, he never head all of Gyan, Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu fit enough to start together between the 2015 Nations Cup final and the opener of this year’s tournament.
Appiah didn’t even need Atsu against Ethiopia, although his decision to turn to Gyan from the start—despite recent fitness concerns—paid dividends as the legendary frontman opened the scoring to take his Black Stars account up to 50 goals.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Appiah to have played it safe with his first squad—and his first matchday squad—and kept faith with the players who have typically populated the squad in recent years.
However, while a few faces from his previous reign—Rashid Sumaila and Jerry Akaminko—did return, several key names were absent.
As well as filling the squad with untried and untested players, Appiah also took a major risk with his starting lineup, including uncapped trio Lumor Agbenyenu, Raphael Dwamena and Thomas Agyepong from the off, and leaving out Jordan Ayew, Waris Majeed, Frank Acheampong and Afriyie Acquah.
The new man’s chosen team lived up to the occasion, rather than find themselves overwhelmed by it, and delighted the Kumasi crowd with a thrilling offensive display.
FC Zurich’s Dwamena—in particular—was excellent, and offered hope for a post-Gyan future.
It won’t be as easy as this every time—Ethiopia can be a brittle outfit after all—but there’s every reason for Ghana fans to be optimistic after a display that was every bit as classy as it was clinical.
The three points gets the Black Stars’ campaign off to an ideal start, but as important, was that Appiah’s bold selection and confident approach suggested that he may well succeed where Grant failed.