They dashed US hopes in the last two World Cups and booked their tickets to Brazil by crushing Bob Bradley’s Egypt in the final round of African qualifying. Now Ghana are quietly confident of going even further in 2014 than they did at South Africa 2010, where a sensational goal-line handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suárez denied them a place in the semifinals.
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Asamoah Gyan, F, Al Ain (UAE): He dropped off the radar a bit since his lucrative move to the Persian Gulf, but Ghana’s captain led the team in scoring during qualifying and should be as hungry as ever to wash away the memory of his injury-time PK miss against Uruguay in 2010.
Harrison Afful, D, Espérance (Tunisia): Somewhat surprisingly, no one logged more minutes in the Black Stars’ qualifying campaign than the reliable fullback. Slightly-built, but versatile and energetic: Consider him the right-footed Ghanaian version of DaMarcus Beasley.
Sulley Muntari, M, AC Milan: Seems like he’s been around for ages, roving the midfields of Serie A and the English Premier League, and despite a tumultuous disciplinary history with his national team he looks likely to be an influential cog in Ghana’s Brazilian adventure.
In a region full of hired-gun managers from abroad, James Kwesi Appiah is already in the history books as the first black coach to lead an African team to World Cup qualification. A presence on the Black Stars’ technical staff for years, his appointment to the top job last year broke a long sequence of European managers: Serbians Goran Stevanovic, Milovan Rajevac and Ratomir Dujkovic and Frenchman Claude Le Roy.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 6-2-0 / 25 GF, 6 GA (First place in Africa’s Group D, won two-legged playoff with Egypt)
Though they conceded just three goals in six group-stage matches, the Black Stars were tested by Zambia – the identity of the group winner wasn’t certain until the final game of the round on Sept. 6, a 2-1 Ghana win at Baba Yara Stadium, their home ground in Kumasi. A little more than a month later, that same venue became a house of horrors for Egypt and their American coach Bob Bradley in a 6-1 mauling that effectively sealed the hosts’ qualification.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
For decades, Ghana were a sleeping giant of African soccer, missing out on one World Cup after another despite winning the African Cup of Nations four times. Those years of frustration finally ended with passage to Germany 2006, where they reached the round of 16, and further progress was made in a solid display on their home continent four years later.
A long list of Ghanaian and Ghanaian-American players have populated the ranks of MLS over the years, including current standouts Gershon Koffie, Dominic Oduro and Kalif Alhassan … The Black Stars defeated the USMNT 2-1 in the last two World Cups, first in the group stage in 2006 and then in an even more painful extratime loss in the round of 16 in 2010 … That hex deepened in June as the Black Satellites, Ghana’s Under-20s, defeated their Yank counterparts – who featured MLSers Luis Gil, Wil Trapp, DeAndre Yedlin, Shane O’Neill, Danny Garcia, Oscar Sorto, Victor Pineda and Mikey Lopez – 4-1 in Kayseri, Turkey, to end the USA’s hopes at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.