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World Cup 2006 Preview – Ghana
Full odds: 250/1
Group E winners: 12/1
After winning four African Cup of Nations titles and producing players of the caliber of Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah, the Black Stars have qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time in 10 attempts, starting in 1962.
Despite being a force in African football between the 1960s and 1980s, qualifying for the World Cup was never a serious exercise and recently the country suffered from poor management both on and off the pitch to derail their bid to reach the 1994 , 1998 and 2002. finals.
However, this problem disappeared under new manager Ratomir Dujkovic. Serbia took over in December 2004 after Portuguese coach Mariano Barreto left four months earlier. Dujkovic had success with Rwanda, leading a side labeled as no-hopers to their first African Cup of Nations finals in 2004.
His impact was clear as Ghana won four of their remaining five qualifiers, including a 2-0 away win over South Africa, and eventually topped their group with five points at the expense of Bafana Bafana.
Where Ghana shines is in midfield. Chelsea’s Michael Essien is a key player for his country and has also excelled at club level despite criticism of his £24.4m price tag set by former club Lyon. They are left-footed captain Stephen Appiah, who now plays for Turkish side Fenerbahce after eight seasons in Italy with Udinese, Parma, Brescia and Juventus. Sulley Muntari also brings with him Serie A experience as he is currently on the reserves at Udinese.
Ghana have been bolstered in defense by the return of Roma center Samuel Kuffor. The former Bayern Munich defender was out of favor after a row with the coach, but has since apologized and is back in contention. Even without him, Ghana boasted a poor defence, conceding just four goals in 10 qualifying matches, the fewest of any African nation.
Despite a strong set-up, Ghana enter their World Cup group as innocent outsiders who could work to their advantage. They face one of the tournament favorites Italy in their opening game, so there is no real pressure on them. The team has done well under Dujkovic and is capable of causing an upset in the opening match.
Beyond that they may struggle as they lack players with a real attacking edge. The onus will be on Vitesse’s Matthew Amoah and Modena’s 20-year-old striker Gyan Asamoah.
Ghana are capable of catching slow starters Italy in their first match and qualification from the group would be a huge achievement. Further tough games against the Czech Republic and the USA could see the Black Stars narrowly missing out.
Ghana to beat Italy @ 5/1
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