The much awaited final squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon was finally revealed by head coach Avram Grant, announcing seven tournament debutants who look set to break into a template first 11.
The 2015 list had as much as 13 new players from the previous 2013 list which lost on penalties to Ivory Coast – failing to break the 33-year hiatus without a continental trophy.
Journeying on from the heartbreak in 2015, another chance beckons for the West African giant to this time around bring an end to the near misses in the last seven years.
The 23-man squad has generated a cacophonous mood in the last few days among soccer loving fans and analysts in the country – questioning the tactical and technical sense to axe Raphael Dwamena and Majeed Waris, who together have 22 goals for young and inexperienced Bernard Tekpetey, who has only been involved in three minutes of football action for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. A question only the Israeli can answer.
Breaking into the squad are Bernard Tekpetey (Schalke 04), Andy Yiadom (Barnsley), Ebenezer Ofori (AIK Stockholm), Samuel Tetteh (Liefering), Thomas Teye Partey (Atletico Madrid), Ebenezer Assifuah (FC Sion) and Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars).
The former WAFA winger has improved and grown into his style of play since moving to the Austrian League.
His bravery and surging runs on the flanks has been nothing but to be admired by spectators. Honestly, I concur with the idea behind a move taken by his parent club Red Bull Salzburg to loan him to lower tier Liefering to gain more playing time and in addition build his confidence. This is also paying dividends for the Black Stars. It’s no surprise he’s scored 10 goals in 20 appearances – powering his club to the second position.
He provides Grant with a second option at both the right and left side of attack – perhaps could be used as a false 9 or attacker as seen in some of the games with Liefering.
He is swift, fast and catches defenders unaware – a slight of marking could place the opposing team in trouble.
Thomas Teye Partey
The tall lanky midfielder comes in with a lot more composure and tactical discipline coupled with visionary passes. Such performance of high tactical acumen was displayed in Ghana’s game against Egypt. His substitution in the game did not sit well with the supporters and the next morning fans made their voices heard on his substitution.
Unfortunately, he’s met stiffer challenges to his position and made only four appearances this season for Atletico Madrid all from the bench, unlike last season when he made three starts in 13 appearances in all competitions.
Agyemang-Badu and Afriyie Acquah’s position as starters for the Black Stars could be under threat if he gets on his mojo.
Bernard Tekpetey’s name surprised many Ghanaians when the 19-year-old got the nod over both Majeed Waris and Raphael Dwamena in the final 23-man squad for the Afcon. Many questions have been raised about his inclusion. Can he bench Jordan or perhaps the ageing Gyan upfront?
He’s made two appearances for Schalke, all as a substitute – one in the Europa Cup against Nice where he got his marching orders minutes after coming on and a three minute comeo against Freiburg in the Bundesliga.
I have got the opportunity to watch his clips with the Schalke youth team and I am convinced that if there is a proper succession plan in the national team for this lad, he will soon limit the over dependence on Asamoah Gyan and wipe away lamentations over his absence.
His bulky nature upfront is a threat to defenders and he is cast in the mold of Diego Costa of Chelsea. His bullying, fight for 50-50 challenges and positioning is very good.
Starting a friendly match on Wednesday against Bunyodkor could be a clear manifestation of what has transpired at the training grounds – being the engineer of the second goal. It is early days but the lad could be the shinning jewel and the surprise package at the bench as was the case of Kwasi Appiah in Afcon 2015.
Another tournament debutant is 25-year-old Andrew Yiadom who plays for Barnsley in the English Championship. This is a fine opportunity for him to prove his mettle as he admitted in a live interview with the club’s TV after making the cut for the tournament.
Aside Harrison Affull, who has 30 matches under his belt for Columbus Crew, Yiadom has more appearances than the rest of the defenders in the squad this season – made 24 in all competition for the ‘The Super Reds’.
He has showed how much of a utility player he is – used at the right wing position in midfield for Barnet from 2012 and at times shifted to the left back spot. And at Barnsley the story remains the same. He was voted the ‘Best Player’ in England Team C when he made three starts and scored two goals.
Andy is very strong on the ball and not easily dispossessed. He shields the ball perfectly and provides cover for other defenders. Although he is yet to make an appearance for Ghana and have a taste of African football, he could make Grant think twice about picking Baba Rahman whose defending abilities has been a matter of concern.
The 2013 World Youth Championship top scorer, Ebenezer Assifuah (6 goals), managed to convince the head coach with his performance at training in Ghana and the UAE to warrant a place in the final 23-man list, something many least expected.
It’s true that the 23-year-old is having an uphill task to make more starts for his club FC Sion – started three out of 15 appearances this season scoring three goals. This hasn’t been a run the former Liberty Professionals player had expected.
Despite his lack of appearances, his exploits with the U-20 team is nothing but a case study of how much direct and fire-power he has got in stock and ready to unleash if given the nod.
AIK Stockholm’s midfielder Ebenezer Ofori has been one of the best players for his club and in the Allsvenskan league for the past two seasons since his move from New Edubiase Unbited. No wonder he has been linked with a move to premier league giant West Ham United.
Among the eight midfielders invited for the tournament by Avram Grant, the 21-year-old is in top shape with more matches, 27- started 24 of them, scored three times and made three assists.
He has an excellent passing ability and a lot more dynamism in the thick of events. One good news about him is his tactical discipline and ingenuity – moving into spaces and giving defense splitting passes. For a young lad to develop such high tactical brilliance in the game, Ghana should be thankful for such a great talent in their fold.
The Ghana Premier League winner has been with the national team for the past two years.
However, he has played third fiddle to Razak Brimah and Fatau Dauda in recent starts for the Black Stars. The goalkeeping department in general, has been the most rustiest and perhaps the most inactive players in the squad. If if Grant is to pick his number one for the tournament based on recent appearance for club then Ofori stands tall with 27 starts for Wa All Stars – far better than Fatau and Brimah combined.
His impressive reflexes, saves and defense organization has won him nothing but back-to-back goalkeeper of the season – both 2014 and 2015. He is one of the reason behind All Stars historic league win with point blank saves which kept them in the driving seat. Thinking of beating him at long range shots, then sorry because he’s got everywhere covered.