The Black Stars of Ghana open their 2019 Afcon campaign with a tricky opening tie against the Squirrels of Benin in Ismaila tonight.
Ghana are in rotten form going into the tournament having failed to win any of our pre-tournament friendlies against South Africa and Namibia and scoring no goals as well.
Prior to that, the Stars laboured through a manageable qualifying group with Kenya and have simply not been playing that well since Kwesi Appiah returned to take over.
Benin on the other hand, whilst not exactly continental powerhouses, are playing well, qualifying just one point behind Algeria and beating the Desert Foxes in Cotonou last October.
Thus this is hardly going to shape up to be a simple game for the Stars to navigate unless they turn their rotten form around.
The talent is certainly there in the team to sidestep Benin, particularly with the return of Kwadwo Asamoah as the main creative spark. Injuries have bothered the Inter Milan star, interrupting his availability for Black Stars games.
However, he is now back and whilst he has been playing left/wingback for years now, he remains the most creative player in the Stars team.
If he’s deployed at attacking midfield behind Jordan Ayew, he could be the missing key to unlocking the scoring potential of the Crystal Palace forward and placing him in advantageous positions. His set-piece delivery would also be quite crucial to take advantage of the aerial threat posed by Andre Ayew, Gyan and Boye.
Another factor in Ghana’s favour is the suspension of Benin’s talismanic winger Stephane Sessegnon. The former Sunderland trickster picked up a suspension in qualifying which would rule him out of tonight’s game, crucially starving Huddersfield forward Steven Mounie of much-needed service.
The stars are thus seemingly aligning for the Stars to pick up an early crucial win and stamp their authority on a group which contains the defending champions Cameroon, the team which dumped us unceremoniously out of the 2017 Afcon.
Whilst not an easy tie, this should be a winnable game for the Stars who simply have more talent that Benin can ever hope to muster.
Kwesi Appiah needs to turn up and get his team firing quickly out of the blocks to lay down a marker to other teams in this competition. None of the big teams has impressed so far and Ghana can make a statement with a huge win tonight, a result surely within our grasp.
Probable Lineup: (4-2-3-1) Richard Ofori; Yiadom, Nuhu, Boye, Agbenyenu; Wakaso, Partey; Atsu, K. Asamoah, A. Ayew; J.Ayew
Ghana vs Benin kicks off at 20:00 UTC tonight.