A look of grim determination and a charged atmosphere have enveloped the camp of the Black Stars as they face the Red Devils of Congo in the Orange 2012 Africa Nations Cup qualifier in Kumasi this evening.
And in their search for the double over their opponents in the qualifiers, the clash has assumed an unimaginable importance for the expectant Kumasi home crowd, with Kevin-Prince Boateng’s debut appearance in Ghana and Michael Essien’s return to the Stars as special attractions.
Ghana are heavily favoured to overcome the Congolese and take another step towards clinching a berth in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations slated for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
And the boisterous Baba Yara Stadium provides a perfect platform for the team to continue their methodical march. Of course, Kumasi is synonymous with large turnouts in such matches, but on a day when the game will have a distinct flavour by virtue of the presence of Kevin-Prince Boateng who makes his home debut, nothing but an overflowing attendance is anticipated.
Assistant coach, Kwasi Appiah, testified to the players’ special affection for Kumasi. “Obviously, they love playing here (Kumasi) because the support is always tremendous.”
Ghana, currently leading Group I on superior goals ahead of The Sudan, need to win this game to make qualification from the group a certainty.
The Black Stars will be going into the match with a positive frame of mind, having all their major arsenal in place.
Ghana relish a creative, all-attacking game, something that was evident in the first leg 3-0 thrashing of the Red Devils in Brazzaville, and the return of Essien will bring the spark and stamina in the middle to drive the team.
An added flavour is in the presence of Kevin-Prince Boateng. The AC Milan midfielder says he has so far enjoyed his stay in Kumasi and is looking forward to his game against Congo.
In contrast, the Red Devils appear disadvantaged, but the threat to spike the Black Stars’ guns cannot be written off, even though the visitors know they will have to play above themselves to achieve this.
Typically, Congolese rely heavily on the towering presence of their players, and today’s game will follow that path.
Congo coach Camille Ngakosso is counting on a team dominated by unknown players but who can be venomous on a good day.
Right back Igor Nganga, of Schaffhausen in Switzerland, Ulrich Kapolongo Shabab-Al-Ordon who plays in Jordan, and Mfoutou Madila of Cameroon Champions Coton Sport of Garoua are among the list of players called up for the match.
They also have defender Christopher Samba of Blackburn Rovers in England, midfielder Delvin Ndinga of Auxerre, France, and striker Fabrice Ondama of Wydad Casablanca in Morocco to rely on to stage a fight of their lives in Kumasi.
Under the tutelage of Serbian coach Goran Stevanovic, the Black Stars have built on their successes achieved in the past, having guided the team in three matches without defeat. Against this background, the team can hardly afford to fail tomorrow.
Looking at the depth of talent in camp, the Ghana coach could have problems picking players for some of the positions, especially in the middle. But experienced as he is, he can only go for the best on the day.
The absence of Samuel Inkoom due to injury provides a good opportunity for Standard Liege’s defender Daniel Opare as the favourite to fill the right back position.
France-based Andre Ayew finally joined the team yesterday, and from all indications some of the names in the first 11 will have the likes of Kingson, Daniel Opare, John Mensah, Michael Essien, K.P. Boateng, Andre Ayew and Prince Tagoe.