MILO MUST START WELL Ahead of Ghana's Group opener against the Squirrels of Benin on Sunday in Kumasi, Ghanasoccernet's featurist Nii Ayitey Tetteh predicts a first win for Milovan Rajevac charges.
It is Saturday and I am sitting a little impatiently at an auto shop waiting for my car to be serviced thoroughly before my friends and I embark on a three hour journey to Kumasi to watch the combined 2010 World and African Cup qualifier between Ghana's Black Stars and their Beninois counterparts, the Squirrels at the BabaYara Stadium come Sunday 29 March.
So Kankam my attendant finally gets to work, changing oil, checking alignment, battery, the plugs etc The session as expected is interspersed with talk on the big game tomorrow.
Kankam, though confident of victory for the Stars, is a little apprehensive considering pre match events.
The Build Up:
It is interesting that, going into this particular game one gets the sense that Ghanaian football fans would not have exercised extreme caution, had Benin not given Ghana a scare in the 2007 Four-Nation Tournament prior to CAN 2008.
In that final, the squirrels went up 2-0 before succumbing 4-2 to the Stars.
Another impressive run in the first round qualifiers by the Squirrels at the expense of Angola, would otherwise have made them underdogs as the records indicate.
Both teams have met 15 times at the senior level with Ghana winning 10 times, drawing thrice and losing only 2 of those encounters.
The Ghanaians have registered a total of 41 goals against the Beninios while conceding 12.
The Squirrels actually only made their second appearance at the Nations Cup last year, after making their debut appearance in 2004 guided paradoxically by Ghanaian coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio.
That qualification seemed to have reflected the coming of age of football in the former Dahomey, as the country's U-20 football team also represented the continent at 2005 World Youth Championship in the Netherlands.
Several graduates of that team have gone on to form the core of the Squirrels.
Razak Omotoyosi stands out of that group as the jet heeled and muscular Al Nasr star, who originally hails from Nigeria, brings a certain cutting edge to the Squirrels attack.
Omotoyosi scored 6 goals in the first phase of the qualifiers and would be a crucial factor in how the game puns out in Kumasi.
So a match up that would have been a simple stroll in the park for the Black Stars is now a very close call indeed, as the Black Stars battle with injuries and loss of form in preparedness for the qualifier.
Key players John Mensah and Laryea Kinston are both out with injuries while first choice goalie Richard Kingson is also struggling to be fit for the encounter.
Embattled Zamalek striker Junior Agogo has been dropped due to inactivity igniting calls for Stephen Appiah the captain to be dropped as well to ensure consistency in player selection.
The captain has been without a club since he left Fernebache.
He is definitely match rusty but the argument going for him is that he brings more than a physical output to the Stars.
His inspired leadership is invaluable to the Stars cause.
Coach Milovan Rajevac is however given a boost with the return of Michael Essien and striker Asamoah Gyan to the team after long injury lay-offs.
The Game Plan:
So when South African referee Daniel Bennet blows his whistle at 17:00 GMT to kick start the game, fans at the Baba Yara stadium would witness a fierce battle of nerves, wits and strategies as both teams seek a perfect start to the campaign.
The Black Stars would most likely line up in Coach Milovan's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with John Paintsil, Eric Addo, Jonathan Quartey and Nana Kwesi Asare most likely to protect Kingson's goal.
Anthony Annan and Michael Essien would pair up as double defensive midfielders with Essien in a slightly advanced role.
Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah would run the wings with Prince Tagoe as the target man.
Matthew Amoah would then fill the hole between the lead striker and the midfielders to start, with Rahim Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Asamoah Gyan likely to join the fray from the bench.
The squirrels French coach Michel Dussuyer would most likely employ France based Yoann Djidonou in goal, Damien Chrysostome of FC Metz , Abdoul Khaled Adenon and the new entrant John Glele or Reda Johnson of Amiens FC manning the rear.
The midfield would be led by exciting Paris Saint-Germaine player Stephane Sessegnon, who would be given the free role to create and unlock the Stars defense.
He would be supported by Pascal Angan, Jocelyn Ahouye and Romould Boco.
Further up field, danger-man Razak Omotoyosi would be partnered by Abu Maiga to attempt a famous upset since Liberia humbled the Stars 3-1 in Accra in 2001 during the 2002 World Cup qualifiers.
The Final Whistle:
Kumasi has not been good hunting grounds for the Squirrels considering that their last two visits have ended up in big defeats.
The 4-0 loss in 1991 and the 3-0 loss in 2003 easily come to mind.
Now I do not expect similar scores but I believe after 90 minutes the Stars firepower backed by the ever vociferous Kumasi fans would be too potent for the Squirrels to escape.
Kankam does a thumbs up to indicate that he is done servicing my car; I jump into the car, kick start the engine and smoothly motion my way out of Accra to Kumasi.
Kankam hopes the Black Stars would have such a smooth start as he predicts a cool 2-0 for the Black Stars. What is your prediction? Let me know.
NII AYITEY TETTEH
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