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 Posted by Colin Udoh
Jun 15, 2014

Ghana a mix of old and new

Midfielder Andre Ayew says that if Ghana are at 100 percent there is no way that they will not beat the U.S.

Ghana's squad for the 2014 World Cup features a host of new names that will play in the tournament for the first time to go with a collection of veterans, such as Asamoah Gyan, Michael Essien and Andre Ayew, who have previous cup experience.

Want a metaphor? Look at the returnees as the core of a machine newly rebuilt with factory-fresh parts. In fact, looking at the 2010 squad again, it came as something of a surprise that Ghana made it out of the first round, claimed victory against the U.S. in the last 16 and almost beat Uruguay in the quarterfinal, ending the tournament as Africa's furthest advanced team.

Some of the players who have made way since then include Stephen Appiah, who was great in his day but nothing more than a passenger in South Africa. Meanwhile, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie possessed the rare genius of running himself into cul-de-sacs.

None of the three goalkeepers present four years ago has returned. At the time, Richard Kingson, for all his errors, was the undisputed choice because of his years of service.

Ayew, who has taken Appiah's No. 10 shirt, is a significant upgrade on the version of the player who went to the last World Cup.

And there's more. Essien, who missed the last edition, returns. Make no mistake, he is not the same player he was in his peak years, but he still has the ability to turn a game.

All of this is down to Kwesi Appiah. When the former Ghana international replaced Milovan Rajevac as national team coach, many felt he was marking time for someone else to come, but that did not stop him from starting a process of putting his imprint on the Black Stars.

Consequently, Appiah has picked a team that is statistically the youngest in the tournament and is remarkable for including some of the brightest young stars of the African game and beyond.

In qualifying for the World Cup, Ghana comfortably held off the challenge offered by 2012 Nations Cup winners Zambia to win the group stage, but things looked to have taken a bad turn when the luck of the playoff draw pitted them against Bob Bradley's Egypt.

- 50-50 Challenge: Ghana vs. United States
- Moonda: Ghana's relationship with the United States
- Davis: Flashback to 2006 and 2010

The Pharaohs, seven-time African champions, were the one team every seeded country wanted to avoid, especially after they barely broke a sweat qualifying for the playoffs. Their haul of 18 points was 100 percent return and unmatched by any other country.

Moreover, in Bradley, they had an astute coach who had been in charge of the United States when Ghana prevailed in that extra-time classic in Rustenburg in 2010. Mohammed Aboutreika was an efficient, experienced goal-scoring machine while Mohamed Salah was one of Africa's brightest and most dangerous young forwards.

Egypt looked odds on to go through, but the Black Stars had other ideals. By the time the whistle blew on that first leg, Bradley's men has nothing to salvage from a 6-1 obliteration.

The result was no accident. Ghana had resolved dressing-room issues that previously saw Kevin-Prince Boateng retire from international football prematurely then return.

The young but talented and influential Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, also had their issues resolved, albeit with government intervention after they made themselves temporarily unavailable.

Appiah has injected the exuberance, pace and bustling energy of youth from the likes of Christian Atsu to go with old heads like Essien and the quiet leadership of Gyan.

Asamoah Gyan led Ghana in scoring at the 2010 World Cup with three goals.

The togetherness has shown in Ghana's results, and that qualifying run demonstrated how improved the Black Stars had become.

The World Cup buildup has been no less encouraging. A largely experimental team lost 1-0 to the Netherlands, which smashed Spain 5-1 in their World Cup opener, and an idea of Ghana's strengths was seen in their final pre-tournament friendly, where a Jordan Ayew hat trick inspired a 4-0 win over South Korea.

In terms of playing style, Ghana are top-heavy with midfielders and enjoy possession but can be dangerous in transitions, with Gyan a key target in the final third.

If the 2010 team was strong, this edition should be considered an even scarier prospect. Plus, they have the mental strength to go with it.

It must be one of the more unfortunate sides of the World Cup draw that such a talented team has been drawn in such a difficult group, with the United States, Germany and Portugal.

But if there is one African country with the belief to make the best of such a sorry grouping, it is Ghana. It starts with that first test against the U.S. on Monday.

Colin Udoh

Colin Udoh is an African football writer, editor of KickOffNigeria.com and became an African football correspondent for ESPN FC after a spell as Nigeria press officer. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.