Ghana’s Black Stars’ campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins in Tamale on Friday, when they host the Cranes of Uganda in the opening match of Group E, in what could be a thriller.
Despite Uganda having been poor travellers against the Black Stars, their recent qualification to the TOTAL Africa Cup of Nations Gabon 2017 for the first time in decades means they cannot be written off.
The Black Stars beat the Cranes 2-0 during the 2006 World Cup campaign but that team was completely different from the current crop under Serbian coach Milutin Sredojevic who led the Cranes to take four points off the Black Stars during the AFCON 2015 qualifying campaign, including a 1-1 draw with Ghana in Kumasi.
While the Black Stars on the evidence of pedigree start as favourites, even in the absence of Andre Ayew; the Cranes in their fold has Denis Onyango, regarded as one of Africa’s most experienced goalkeepers.
The Mamelodi Sundowns stopper emerged as a key reason the Cranes booked a place for Gabon and he is expected to pose a test to the Black Stars’ attack led by Asamoah Gyan who has scored 48 times in 95 appearances.
In defence, the visitors have Denis Iguma who could create problems for the Ghana frontline if he passes the fitness test on Friday. Gyan and his troops will without a doubt be concerned about the likes of Isaac Isinde and Murushid Jjuuko, regular partners at the Cranes rear.
The last time both sides met in Kumasi, Tony Mawejje scored in the 1-1 draw in 2014 and should be motivated to take on the Black Stars rich midfield that leaves coach Avram Grant spoilt for choice.
However, it will be the visitors forward Farouk Miya that Ghana’s backline of John Boye, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful and Baba Rahman might want to keep an eye on.
Presently enjoying a rich goal scoring form, the youngster made history with his goal that saw Uganda qualify for its first continental champion since 1978 and also found the net thrice as Uganda beat Togo 4-0 on aggregate to qualify for this stage of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
With compliments from Captain Geoffrey Massa who can also operate as a fine lone attacker, the Cranes appear set on paper to match the Black Stars.
Ghana has qualified for the last three editions of the Mundial, Germany (2006), South Africa (2010) and Brazil (2014), and are eyeing a successive fourth berth, whilst the Cranes have set sights on a maiden appearance at the global quadrennial event.
Egypt travels to Kintele to face Congo in the other Group E match on Sunday.
Source: Confederation of African Football.