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EXCLUSIVE: Ethiopia game is vital for Ghana - Ayew, Appiah

It's been a massive homecoming all round for the Black Stars in Kumasi as they face Ethiopia in a 2019 Nations Cup qualifier at the Baba Yara Stadium.

There have been large crowds at the training sessions, scores of people at the team hotel, a more positive vibe on radio, and the team were even granted an audience with the revered Asante King Otumfuo Osei Tutu.

Now the players say they want to win to seal the buzz and ensure a smooth take off to the 2019 Nations Cup.

"We have ambitions to become African champions but you can't win if you don't qualify so this game is very important", Andre Ayew told KweséESPN.

Local boy Kwesi Appiah, back in charge as the coach of the Black Stars, is demanding even more.

"Part of the idea is to win the fans back on our side so the reception in Kumasi has been encouraging. Now we need to do our part by winning", he added.

Appiah spent a chunk of his playing career in Kumasi before coaching local side Asante Kotoko.

His huge popularity in the city is part of the reason why the Black Stars are back here almost three years after shunning the venue.

There used to be a time when the players were booed here and radio programs were filled with toxic encouragement for fans to shun Black Stars games, all flowing from a devastating row over money at the 2014 World Cup.

Money has been a part of the conversation here again with players agitating for a $10,000 winning bonus while the government sticks to its decision to pay $5000. The difference this time is that at least it has not obscured the larger goal for the Black Stars.

For Appiah there are many goals.

First, he wants a great start to the qualifiers and a performance that lays down the marker for his second spell as Black Stars coach.

His eye-catching squad selection -- Mubarak Wakaso and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu were axed, while new faces Isaac Sackey, Samuel Sarfo and Raphael Dwamena have been introduced -- suggests he is prepared to mix things up.

Dwamena in particular has impressed many during a season where he scored thirty goals in the second tier of Austria and later Switzerland.

"That Dwamena boy looks good, he really does," said respected commentator Kwabena Yeboah. "He has looks good height and has looked solid in training."

There is a suspicion that Dwamena could be one of the new players introduced into the starting XI.

The goalkeeping area requires a new face too with Razak Braimah and Adam Kwarasey absent, and Fatau Dauda unwanted by Kwesi Appiah. Richard Ofori, the Wa All Stars goalkeeper, looks like the man to get the nod.

There will be many familiar faces too.

The likes of Jonathan Mensah and John Boye provide a strong backbone, and in midfield, Atletico Madrid's Thomas Partey will be required to provide the spark. The Ayew brothers are almost certain to start too.

Whoever takes to the field against the Ethiopians, Appiah realises the value of a strong start.

"I want us to start well and play well," he continued. "Ultimately it will take time to make this team thick again but we can send the right signals tomorrow."

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