Ghana's Black Stars were among the favourites going into the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2006, yet ended with the ignominy of early departure after failing to make it past the first round. Having won the Cup of Nations four times before, Ghana's initial ambition was to set a new record-breaking standard but after losing to Nigeria in their first game were always on the back foot. The Black Stars held out in a tough encounter against their traditional rivals before conceding a late goal to Taye Taiwo. Negative aspects A 1-0 win over Senegal in their second group match revived hopes, with Mathew Amoah continuing his goal scoring run from the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but Ghana, then set up for progress to the quarter-finals, threw it all away in their last group D match with a surprise 2-1 defeat to Zimbabwe in Ismailia. Ghana could draw few immediate positives from the Cup of Nations experience with the disappointing results sending the side into the inevitable spin of bitter analysis and debate over the future of the coach. On the bright side The Serbian Ratiomir Duyjkovic has, however, been given a vote of confidence to push forward to the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals and can therefore now work on the changes he needs to ensure his side proves more competitive in Germany. Nice surprises Ghana will be pleased at having discovered that the depth in their squad needs better examination, that the striking department needs reinforcing and that more experience would be handy. Enlarge PhotoPhoto Gallery The drive in midfield of Stephen Appiah again confirmed his key role as the leader of the team, even at a time when most of the focus will be on Africa's most expensive footballer, Michael Essien. Areas of improvement Ghana point to the dehabilitating effect of losing Essien, Sulley Muntari of Udinese and the young Italian-based striker Asamoah Gyan to injury before the start of the tournament. Certainly their absence was sorely felt and left Ghana without much of a core to their side. Suspension to Laryea Kingston, sent off in their second game in Egypt, also threw them off. But Ghana must also look to the inexperience in defence and their lack of punch upfront, where Isaac Boakye of Bundesliga club Arminia Bielefeld was surprisingly left out of the squad. Prospcts Stephen Appiah again proved just how vital he is to Ghana's cause, playing through injury to try and stamp his command on their performances. Appiah, battling with a bruised foot, fought almost a lone battle without the likes of Essien and Muntari to support him. Appiah had been the catalyst behind Ghana's qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals. Striker Mathew Amoah, exhausted after being forced to travel between Ghana's pre-Nations Cup training camp in Tunisia and his new club Borussia Dortmund's winter preparations in Turkey, also gave a glimpse of his potential but injury forced him out of Ghana's last vital match against Zimbabwe. Haminu Dramani's play on the wing and the agility of goalkeeper Sammy Adjei were also highlights for the Black Stars. Ghana's failure at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations means the immediate objective of coach Dujkovic is to give the Black Stars their confidence back. This proposes will start with a series of friendly matches where Ghana can gain back the self belief that saw them come from behind to win their 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying group. Adding more depth and experience to their squad is also needed to allow Ghana better resources to call upon. It is expected that an overhaul of the side is on the cards ahead of the March 1 friendly against Mexico in Dallas. Ghana remain one of the better hopes for Africa at the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals and although they must get past the likes of Italy, the Czech Republic and the USA, have the ability to suspires a surprise or two. Although they are first time qualifiers, Ghana have a rich pedigree in African football as four time winners of the Nations Cup. Their success at junior level in FIFA competition also provides the foundation for a place in the knockout stages with many players having experience of competing at U-20 and U-17 level against the best in the world.