The Story So Far: Optimism was high for the Black Stars following their demolition of Egypt in the CAF World Cup Qualifying play-off. Expectations were dampened, however, by the testing group-stage draw, where Ghana were pooled alongside Germany, Portugal and the United States.
Still, the Black Stars had been in tricky groups before and, ahead of this summer, had never before been eliminated at the first round.
The first objective was to avoid defeat, and even beat the States in the group’s opener. Fail to do this and progression would be a major ask.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the opening rounds, Ghana fought back to equalise against the Stars and Stripes, but were undone by a late John Brooks header, giving the States the victory.
To their credit, Ghana picked up a point against Germany, although, as with their first match, there was a sense of ‘what might have been’ as they let another advantageous position slip.
Ghana could still have advanced with a win over Portugal in their last group stage match. By then, however, they had been hit by the ‘Cameroon Curse’.
With Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari sent home, with $3 million dollars flown to Brazil in a chartered plane and with John Boye’s famous ‘Fistful of Dollars’ photograph, Kwesi Appiah’s men were in disarray.
They departed, after defeat, with only one point and four years’ worth of regrets.
Hit of the Group Stage: Asamoah Gyan
The hitman continues to prove himself as the man for the big occasion.
He equalled Roger Milla’s record for an African goal-scorer at the World Cup against Germany, before surpassing the Indomitable Lions great in the final group match against Portugal.
It was Gyan’s sixth goal, he has now scored at three World Cups, and while he was unable to save his compatriots on this occasion, he retains an aura within the context of the national side.
His international record of one-in-two demands respect, and it is a shame that the Ghana forward chooses to play out the finest years of his career in the relative backwaters of the UAE Arabian Gulf League.
I wasn’t alone in hoping that Majeed Waris would be set for a big tournament. Sadly, that wasn’t to be as the Spartak Moscow forward was injured in the pre-tournament friendly against South Korea and only returned to the starting line-up for the final match against Portugal.
He cut a frustrated figure in this match and missed a fairly straightforward chance.
This acknowledgement, therefore, ought to go to Christian Atsu, who stood out in spells for the Black Stars.
Atsu has fully established himself as a first-team player for Ghana now (he has started 14 of the side’s last 20 games). He offers something a little different — more pace and directness — than the side’s other midfielders and created three chances alone in the opener against the USA.
Has Atsu done enough in Brazil to convince Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho to use him at Stamford Bridge this season?
Ghana fans were tearing their hair when Jordan Ayew, having broken through the German defence, opted to shoot rather than play in Gyan, who would surely have put the victory beyond doubt.
His wastefulness here was indicative of his ineffectiveness throughout his one start and two substitute appearances, and illustrated the inadequacies that have hindered his progress.
The Olympique Marseille forward made no tangible contribution to the Black Stars’ offence — neither goals nor assists — and often opted not to link up play when better options presented themselves.
Naturally, Boateng, Muntari and Boye have stolen the negative headlines, but while they each contributed something to the ‘good’ of Ghana’s summer, Jordan did not.
Ghana’s two-goals-in-nine-minute spell against Germany was the pinnacle of an awesome attacking period for the Black Stars.
Andre Ayew equalled Mario Gotze’s earlier goal for Joachim Loew’s side, before Gyan both gave the Black Stars the lead and surpassed Milla’s record.
For that spell, and for the next eight minutes, Ghana stood toe-to-toe with Germany and, indeed, had them on the ropes.
The fantastic, vivid, choreographed celebrations only added to the spectacle.
The bad ‘moments’ began coming thick and fast in the final days of Ghana’s stay in Brazil, but they were largely confined to the team hotel and the disturbingly-worded official statements outlining the misdemeanours of Boateng and Muntari.
The worst on-field moment must surely have come only minutes after Gyan’s would-be winner against the Germans.
With the Mannschaft struggling, and Ghana rampant, Jordan Ayew broke down the left hand side, terrorising the German backline and bore down on goal.
For a moment, the greatest result in Ghana’s history flashed before the eyes of a nation, but Jordan only sought the self-seeking headlines and opted to shoot, ignoring Asamoah Gyan who was better placed.
Moments later, Germany equalised. Ghana had failed to both take their chances and manage the game … a famous victory and a vital two points slipped away from them.
Where do they go from here?
For too long a climate of individuality has been allowed to grow within the Black Stars set-up like an insidious maladie.
When the likes of Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng, the Ayew Brothers and, to a lesser extent, Sulley Muntari, decided to end their self-imposed international exiles and return to the national team set-up, it came at the expense of a unified team spirit.
For a while, things rolled on without incident, but how they have unravelled over the past week.
Moving forward, this climate of player power can no longer be tolerated. The egos can no longer be allowed to rule the team and the manager and the federation can no longer be held at the whims of the big-name players.
Kwesi Appiah, should he continue in the role, must take a leaf out of Stephen Keshi’s book and rebuild the team around the promise of youth and the players’ desire to work for the good of the collective.
In the likes of Afriyie Acquah, Atsu, Waris, Daniel Opare, Solomon Asante and even SuperSport United’s Edwin Gyimah, they possess the building blocks of a promising future.
By Ed Dove