The Black Stars will have an opportunity of giving Ghanaians hope in their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) bid when they engage the Squirrels of Benin in their Group F opener at the Ismailia Stadium on Tuesday.
Coach Kwasi Appiah’s side are bent on beginning their campaign on the high by beating Benin as they chase an end to a 37-year wait for the AFCON title.
It is expected to be an entertaining game for both countries that look to kick start the tournament on a bright note but the Stars face a must-win match should the team’s mantra of “The Year of Return” stand a chance of materialising.
Having camped in Dubai for three weeks, Black Stars skipper, Andre Ayew, has indicated the team’s readiness to end the nation’s wait for its fifth continental title as they bid to win their first AFCON title since 1982.
Ayew stated in an interview three days ago that the team were working tirelessly to ensure they make Ghana proud by returning with the title after what he described as intense training sessions aimed at achieving the best at the tournament.
“We have been in Dubai for a while now and I can tell you that everyone is working tirelessly to ensure we deliver the AFCON title to Ghanaians.
“Everyone here believes in hard work being the key to success and are focused on working towards that in order to achieve our goals,” he said at the team’s training camp in Dubai.
Despite weeks of intense training, the Stars must utilise their vast experience over the Squirrels if they are to dominate the tie with the experienced stars such as Ayew, General Captain Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu, John Boye, Kwadwo Asamoah and Jonathan Mensah, among others, having played over four AFCON tournaments.
The team must work on their finishing against Benin despite possessing the statistical advantage with seven wins, five draws and two losses in 14 encounters but having struggled to score in their two preparatory games against Namibia and South Africa, coach Appiah faces a tough task to fix his striker's drought at the tournament.
Coach Appiah will have to deploy a strategy that will help get the best out of his strikers as the Beninois will look to punish them should they fail to take advantage of their chances.
The Squirrels, however, will have to play Ghana without influential skipper, Stéphane Sessègnon, after he accumulated yellow cards in the qualifiers.
Despite Sessegnon missing out on the Ghana game, the Squirrels have the likes of Cèbio Soukou, Mickael Pote, David Djigla and Sessi D’Almeida, among others, who could trouble the Stars.
Ghana stands tall on statistics with seven wins, five draws and two losses in 14 encounters and will be hoping to build on that to ensure a convincing victory on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in the other group game, defending champions, Cameroun, will slug it out with Guinea-Bissau as they begin their title defence.