2014 World Cup
Key Ghanaian Players Are Struggling Ahead of Brazil
Need to catch up on Ghana’s squad? You’ve come to the right place. Here’s our first in a three-part series detailing who’s hot and who’s not for the U.S.’s Group G opponents.
BY Blake Thomsen PostedWE WILL HAVE A DETAILED tactical analysis of Ghana once they start playing their pre-Brazil friendlies, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not for the Black Stars heading into the World Cup.
May 20, 2014
May 20, 2014
THEY'RE HOTThese are players who are coming into World Cup camp in the form of their lives, or close to it at least. Warning for U.S. fans and defenders alike: most of them are attackers. Asamoah Gyan—striker, Al Ain
The old U.S. nemesis is in electric form at the moment, scoring an astonishing 14 goals over his last 10 games to bring his season total to 37 goals in 35 appearances. Granted, Gyan is playing in the Arabian Gulf League, but his scoring rate is impressive nonetheless. Here are his two most recent strikes, both from his last game before reporting to Ghana camp (the Gyan show starts at the :50 mark). Critics can justifiably question the level of competition, but Gyan doesn’t seem fazed by the poor quality of his opponents. “Since I moved here, my statistics in the national team have been really excellent, and I don’t regret coming to the UAE,” he said last week. “And I have been scoring more consistently for the national team since I moved here than when I was playing in Europe.” The man’s got a point. His performances for Ghana have only improved since he’s become one of the world’s top scorers, which isn’t that surprising given how confident he must be every time he steps on the field. Gyan enters the World Cup in red-hot form, and he’s comfortably the most dangerous player on Ghana’s team.
Heat Index: Summer World Cup in Qatar Abdul Waris—winger, Valenciennes
After joining French side Valenciennes in January, Waris ranked third in Ligue 1 with nine goals, underlining his terrific form in 2014. He added three assists as well, making him by far the biggest offensive contributor on a woeful Valenciennes side, for which he scored or assisted on 12 of the 20 goals it scored after his arrival. Here’s Waris’ most recent goal, which features an Aron Johannsson-esque cut before a clever near-post finish. Just 22 years old, Waris has a real chance to play big minutes for Ghana in Brazil. Prior to this year, he would have been expected to be far behind Kwadwo Asamoah and Andre Ayew on the winger depth chart, but his form in Ligue 1 will be hard to ignore for Ghana manager Kwasi Appiah. Given Waris’ excellent form, there’s a slight chance that Asamoah could be moved centrally to accommodate him in the starting XI.
Heat Index: Manaus Andre Ayew—winger, Marseilles
The elder Ayew brother has rebounded quite well after missing about half the season with a knee injury. He picked up four goals in his last seven games of the season for Marseilles and scored the winner on Saturday, twisting to head home Mathieu Valbuena’s cross after adding some useful touches in the buildup. He will almost certainly start at right wing for Ghana in Brazil, and Fabian Johnson (or perhaps DaMarcus Beasley) will have his hands full in keeping Ayew quiet.
Heat Index: First day of camp at Stanford Jordan Ayew—winger, Sochaux
Jordan Ayew observed his older brother’s exploits in the last seven Ligue 1 games and probably thought, hey, I can do that, too. Or something. Anyway, Jordan Ayew delivered an identical tally to Andre in the last seven games, notching four goals in a valiant but unsuccessful effort to keep Sochaux in the top division. This nice piece of chest control and slammed strike from last week’s loss to Montbeliard shows the confidence with which the younger Ayew is playing with at the moment. Jordan is unlikely to start in Brazil, but his recent hot streak means it is probable that he will see a fair amount of time as a substitute. One thing working against Jordan, though, is his somewhat bizarre disciplinary record. Though he plays as a winger—seemingly the least combative position on the pitch—Ayew picked up three yellow cards and a red in his last nine games.
Heat Index: Hot—emotionally too Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu—central midfielder, Udinese
The 23-year-old Agyemang-Badu picked up the pace once the calendar hit 2014, seeing far more minutes for Udinese and responding by delivering goals and solid performances over the past four months. His outrageous volley against Lazio was particularly memorable (wonder goal aficionados will note its similarity to his Puskas Award nominated effort in 2012). Agyemang-Badu is one of the most intriguing players in the Ghana camp. Often a first-team selection for the Black Stars over the past two years, Agyemang-Badu has seen his starting place come under fire with the return of Michael Essien, and he now looks an underdog to start in Brazil. Is that justified? Probably not, but more on that later.
Heat Index: Hot, but in danger of being cooled by his manager
THEY'RE MEDIUM HOTIn this section we’ll take a look at some players who are playing well, but not quite at their best. Here we’ll find two of Ghana’s most important players. Kwadwo Asamoah—winger/central midfielder, Juventus
At Juventus, Asamoah plays almost exclusively as a wingback, which allows him to get forward occasionally but asks a lot of him defensively as well. As a result, his goal scoring and assist rates are far lower than several of his national teammates, even if it would be fair to say that Asamoah is the better player. He notched two goals in Juve’s last 14 games, which isn’t too shabby for a wingback, but he only managed three assists all season. Ghana has occasionally used him centrally in the past, and given the glut of quality and in-form wingers in the side, he may find himself in the middle of the pitch in Brazil. All told, given his unique combination of strength, speed, stamina, and quality on the ball, Asamoah is always going to be an asset wherever he is on the pitch. Still, U.S. fans and players may not be cowering in fear about his potential attacking contributions.
Heat Index: On the beach in Rio with an ocean breeze Adam Kwarasey—goalkeeper, Stromsgodet
Ghana’s No. 1 has been dependable if unexceptional in the Norwegian league since the beginning of the Tippeligaen season. In nine games this year he’s recorded three shutouts, giving up 10 goals in total. For what it’s worth, Kwarasey has given up five goals in three games against top four teams. Admittedly that doesn’t tell us much, but perhaps he’ll struggle a bit with the increased level of competition in Brazil.
Heat Index: Well and truly lukewarm Christian Atsu—winger, Vitesse
Atsu has been OK for Vitesse, but it’s safe to say that bigger things were expected from the Chelsea loanee this season. He only managed five goals against the infamously porous defenses of the Eredivisie, despite starting almost every game. It wasn’t all bad for Atsu, though. He still made time for some impressive moments, with this slalom and sharp finish the standout goal of his campaign. He also delivered a serviceable six assists, and he’s in decent form at the moment, scoring twice in his last eight games. With all of this in mind, it will be interesting to see what Atsu’s fate is in Brazil. He’s got the best pedigree of any winger outside of Asamoah and Andre Ayew, but his often lackluster displays in the Eredivisie may see him consigned to the bench behind the aforementioned starters, as well as Abdul Waris and Jordan Ayew.
Heat Index: Starting to think about wearing a jacket
THEY'RE DOWNRIGHT COLDAre you a U.S. fan looking for a reason to be optimistic? You’re in the right place. Our three most prominent (and coldest) selections in this group have an excellent chance of being Ghana’s three starting central midfielders in Natal on June 16. Wakaso Mubarak—winger, Rubin Kazan
If Christian Atsu should be concerned about potential playing time in Brazil, Wakaso Mubarak should be really concerned. Thanks to injuries and poor form, he managed just two goals for Rubin Kazan all season, which doesn’t bode well for his chances heading into the World Cup. However, Mubarak has always played far better for Ghana than for his club teams. If Kwasi Appiah values national team performances far more than club performances—remember, Jozy Altidore is the U.S.’s projected starter at striker, and not without good reason—then Mubarak could see the field in Brazil.
Heat Index: Shivering Kevin Prince-Boateng—central midfielder, Schalke
When in peak form, Kevin Prince-Boateng is Ghana’s best player. But how about at his worst? We might just find out the answer to that question in a month’s time. The supremely gifted central midfielder has never seemed to fit in at Schalke since leaving AC Milan, and he’s spent more of his time recently picking fights in the media with Germany than he has contributing on the field. Despite playing almost every game, Prince-Boateng has precisely one league goal for Schalke since early November. And he hasn’t been setting goals up, either, with just two assists in 28 league starts on the season. Still, U.S. fans know all too well how dangerous Prince-Boateng can be. Warning: the video below contains graphic images. But it seems distinctly possible that the Prince-Boateng who shows up in Brazil may be a shell of his usual self. Considering he’ll likely play as an advanced central midfielder, he may struggle to make an impact on the proceedings.
Heat Index: Cold, wet Wednesday night at Stoke Sulley Muntari—central midfielder, AC Milan
With 79 caps and 19 goals to his name, Muntari has long been a stalwart for Ghana. But like his central midfield mate Prince-Boateng, Muntari has struggled for his club team despite seeing plenty of the field. He scored only one goal in all competitions in 2014, and managed only two assists all season. It’s also worth noting that his presence in the middle didn’t exactly inspire Milan to play at a high level, as the big-spending club finished eighth in Serie A—a whopping 35 points behind leaders Juventus. To make matters worse, Muntari continued his traditionally poor discipline, accruing 10 yellow cards and a red over the course of the season. He’s still highly likely to start in Brazil, but after such a poor campaign, it’s difficult to see him playing at or near his best.
Heat Index: Hex game against Mexico in Columbus in February Michael Essien—central midfielder, AC Milan
It seems that in every World Cup, age catches up with a legendary player who then vastly underperforms, effectively ending his career at the highest level. Consider Fabio Cannavaro in 2010. Michael Essien seems like a strong candidate to continue the tradition. He moved to Milan on loan in January, and though he’s been fully healthy, he’s only played 324 ineffective league minutes for Milan this season. As mentioned before, this is a deeply mediocre Milan side, but Essien can hardly get on the field, with fellow underperforming Ghanaian Sulley Muntari in his way. It was a similar story at Chelsea in the first half of the season. Even Jose Mourinho, who brought Essien to Chelsea originally and used to start him virtually every game—in a stronger Chelsea side, no less—started him just twice in the league before shipping him off to Milan. Essien looks, frankly, far past his prime. But all indications are that he will start in the center of the pitch in Brazil. Michael Bradley eagerly awaits.
Heat Index: SnoClásico in Denver What do you think about the state of Ghana’s squad heading into Brazil? How important is a player’s form leading up to the World Cup? Let us know in the comments section. Blake Thomsen is a frequent ASN contributor who has as many goals in all competitions (Premier League, FA Cup, Capital One Cup, Champions League, and Serie A) as Michael Essien this season, but six fewer yellow cards. Follow him on Twitter.