Will Ghana finally banish their Afcon demons in this year’s show?

Ghana's forward Caleb Ekuban reacts to a missed penalty during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations against Tunisia, on July 8, 2019. [File]

To be a supporter of the Ghanaian football team over the last four decades is to be familiar with sorrow and acquainted with grief.

Four-time Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) winners Ghana have endured a barren period of 40 years since their last tournament victory in 1982, agonisingly falling short at the final hurdle on three occasions - twice on penalties - during that time.

But this year could be different. The Black Stars have Milovan Rajevac - the coach who led them to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 - in charge, Premier League stars like Thomas Partey and Jordan Ayew in their side, and fans hope once again.

The glory days 

Ghana have a proud history at Afcon, winning the first two they entered in 1963 and 1965, with striker Edward Acquah, defender Ben Acheampong, ‘wizard dribbler’ Osei Kofi, 5 ft 3in attacking midfielder Frank Odoi and forward Willie Mfum prominent.

After two narrow 1-0 defeats in successive finals in 1968 and 1970, they did not qualify for three tournaments on the spin before winning two more competitions in 1978 (on home soil) and 1982 with a golden generation of Ghanaian footballers.

‘Golden Boy’ Karim Abdul Razak, ‘Dribbling Magician’ Mohammed Polo, skilful forward George Alhassan - nicknamed ‘Jair’ after Brazil legend Jairzinho - Opoku ‘Bayie’ Afriyie, whose nickname means ‘wizardry’ in the Twi language - and captain Emmanuel Quarshie wrote their names in the country’s folklore.

The 1982 final also marked the emergence of Abedi Pele, who came on as a sub in that game and began a remarkable international career which marked him as a generational talent and one of the best African players in history. 

 Enduring final heartbreak

A lack of success followed in the 1990s despite the presence of players like Leeds icon and wonder-goal merchant Tony Yeboah and Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour. 

Then, just over a decade ago, the 2010 side of Richard Kingson, Kwadwo Asamoah and Asamoah Gyan conceded to Gedo with just five minutes left in the final as Egypt snatched a 1-0 victory.

In 2015, an XI boasting full-back Harrison Afful, midfielder Afriyie Acquah, Christian Atsu and Andre Ayew again reached the final, but in a cruel throwback to 1992 lost 9-8 on penalties against Ivory Coast, despite going 2-0 up after two penalties each.

Coming so close on so many occasions is likely to weigh heavily on the minds of the current Ghana side, a decent number of whom experienced the heartbreak of 2010 and 2015 first-hand. 

The 2019 disappointment - exiting at the round-of-16 stage, again on penalties, against Tunisia - was their most recent appearance in the competition.

 So who made the squad?  

Thomas Partey is the biggest star. The influential Arsenal midfielder, signed from Atletico Madrid in October 2020, will provide real all-around quality in the engine room. 

Swindon’s Joe Wollacott, formerly of Bristol City, will challenge for the goalkeeping shirt, Leicester’s Daniel Amartey and the experienced Jonathan Mensah are likely to link up in defence, along with Reading full-backs Andy Yiadom and Baba Rahman. The Black Stars also have plenty of options going forward, with Ayew brothers Jordan and Andre (the captain) - sons of Abedi Pele - boasting plenty of experience, and Richmond Boakye and Benjamin Tetteh possessing decent goals records.

Exciting young talents Kamaldeen Sulemana, of Rennes, and Ajax star Mohammed Kudus will provide real pace, trickery, cut and thrust to the Ghana attack. 

 Who missed out?

The (more) experienced goalkeeper Richard Ofori of South African side Orlando Pirates was not among the four goalkeepers named, leaving a callow group between the sticks - with 11 caps between them to Ofori’s 19, and two uncapped stoppers.

The absence of promising Southampton defender Mohammed Salisu is a surprise and Fiorentina’s Alfred Duncan could well have gone too, but the absence of Crystal Palace midfielder Jeffrey Schlupp is probably the most noteworthy omission.

Schlupp, a Premier League title winner with Leicester, scored in the Eagles’ 3-0 win against Norwich alongside Jordan Ayew.

 Who are they up against? 

In Group C, Ghana have two tough assignments: Gabon and Morocco. Comoros, meanwhile, are making their Afcon debut and should not cause their opponents too much trouble.

Morocco pose the toughest test, with PSG’s Achraf Hakimi, Wolves’ Romain Saiss, Imran Louza, Sofyane Amrabat, Ilias Chair, Munir El Haddadi, Sofiane Boufal, Barcelona’s Ez Abde and star striker Youssef En-Nesyri capable of real damage.