Ghana head coach Otto Addo announced the Black Stars’ FIFA World Cup squad on Monday, and the likes of Thomas Partey, in-form Mohammed Kudus and the Ayew brothers give supporters hope that their side can edge past Portugal, South Korea and old foe Uruguay to escape from Group H.
However, Addo’s options have been limited by late injuries in the Black Stars camp, with key absentees threatening to derail the West Africans’ prospects.
Here are the big talking points from Ghana’s 26-man squad.
The biggest talking point from the squad announcement is that Ghana’s key goalkeepers, Jojo Wollacott and Richard Ofori, both missed selection due to late injuries, in a disastrous twist for Addo and his staff.
Expected starter Wollacott damaged a finger in the warm-up ahead of Charlton Athletics’s League One match against Burton Albion on Saturday, and he was not selected despite initial hopes that the injury was not severe.
The Bristol-born keeper made his Black Stars debut only in October 2021, but quickly established himself as the West Africans’ No. 1 accruing 11 caps and making a series of big saves as Ghana squeaked past rivals Nigeria in March’s playoff.
“My understanding is that following surgery he will still meet up with the Ghana squad and remain a key member of their travelling party,” Charlton head coach Ben Garner told the club’s website. “Knowing Jojo as I do, he will respond to this setback with great maturity and a determination to come back even stronger.”
Wollacott had replaced Ofori as the Black Stars’ No. 1, but the Orlando Pirates keeper, who started for Ghana at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, would have been an able replacement for his younger rival had he been fit.
Ofori appeared to dispel fears that he would be sidelined due to injury when he returned to action for the MTN8 Cup final against AmaZulu on Nov. 6, but the 29-year-old, a valuable member of Ghana’s squad behind the scenes, appeared to sustain a knee injury and was not risked by Addo after he subsequently played no part in the Pirates’ preparations for last Saturday’s Carling Black Label Cup final.
This leaves Addo with an unenviable decision for Ghana’s kick-off against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on Nov. 24.
Lawrence Ati-Zigi and Abdul Manaf Nurudeen will battle for the starting role, with home-based Danlad Ibrahim the third-choice, although none of the trio have considerable international experience.
Ati-Zigi, of Swiss side St. Gallen, has 10 caps but conceded four goals in June’s Kirin Cup defeat by Japan, while Belgium-based Nurudeen has just two caps after making his debut only in January.
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Baba leaves a chasm in midfield
Mallorca’s Iddrisu Baba, who had been primed to start as the Black Stars’ first-choice defensive midfielder, was the other late injury omission from the squad.
The 26-year-old’s tireless work, intercepting and tackling have been crucial in allowing the likes of Partey and Kudus to press forward and express themselves, but he misses the World Cup after limping out of Mallorca’s victory over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday with a muscle injury.
“At least we tried,” the midfielder tweeted after his omission was confirmed, although he added “was just seven days” — suggesting that he believed he could have recovered for the tournament.
Addo may find himself short of natural successors, with Gent ‘s Elisha Owusu — not at the same level as Baba — one such option.
Uncapped Samed gets the call
Lens’ Salis Abdul Samed, one of three uncapped players to have been included, is another potential candidate to replace Baba in the starting XI.
Calls for Samed to be given a maiden cap during the September window, following fine form in Ligue 1, were ignored, and thus the 22-year-old was a surprise inclusion in the final squad for Qatar.
However, on form, there can be few qualms that he deserves selection, having played an influential role in Lens’ outstanding start to the season as they sit second heading into the World Cup break.
Samed offers more on the ball than the injured Baba — he ranks among the 10 most accurate passers in Ligue 1 this season — having been at the heart of Lens’ excellent run, but no player in the division averages more fouls per match.
If Samed can replicate his club form on the grandest stage, then perhaps Baba won’t be missed.
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Veterans among big omissions
One player who won’t be competing for a place in Ghana’s midfield is 32-year-old Wakaso Mubarak, who, along with defender Jonathan Mensah, had been hoping to join the Ayew brothers in returning to the World Cup after featuring in 2014.
Andre and Jordan Ayew were included, but there was no place for Wakaso or Mensah.
The former played in each of the June fixtures, having not featured for more than six months, but clearly did not do enough despite being praised by the coach.
The experience offered by long-term squad member Mensah has also been dismissed, as the 32-year-old Columbus Crew man appears to have been edged out by the new call-ups.
The classy centre-back’s omission leaves Andre Ayew as the last man standing from the 2010 Ghana squad that was a Luis Suarez handball and an Asamoah Gyan missed penalty from the semis.
Felix Afena-Gyan, a Europa Conference League winner with AS Roma last season, and Joseph Paintsil — 14 goal contributions in 14 Belgian First Division A games for Genk — have also been left at home.
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No space for Schlupp
Unlike Wakaso and Jonathan, who have represented Ghana at a combined 15 international tournaments, Jeffrey Schlupp — remarkably — has never been part of a Black Stars squad for a major event.
Critically underused by a series of Black Stars selectors, none of whom have regularly found a consistent role in the starting XI for the Crystal Palace man – perhaps a victim of his own versatility – Schlupp has amassed just five caps since 2016.
He hasn’t represented Ghana since Sept. 2021, but his surprise inclusion in Addo’s 55-man shortlist had fuelled hope that he could finally tackle a major tournament with the Black Stars.
For a player who has 219 Premier League appearances — more than any other Ghanaian player in history — and even won the title with Leicester City in 2016, it’s remarkable that he’s been so unfulfilled at international level.
“They know why they’ve been left at home,” Addo said, cryptically, of Paintsil and Schlupp’s omissions, when asked in Monday’s press conference.
“We had a talk between men, they know the reason.”
New converts rewarded
Edward Nketiah and Callum Hudson-Odoi didn’t commit to the Black Stars in time to make the World Cup, but Ghana’s squad has been bolstered significantly since the Nations Cup by a swathe of new converts.
Tariq Lamptey, Inaki Williams and Denis Odoi all debuted this year and have been selected for the World Cup after representing a European nation at youth level, as have European-born duo Owusu and Antoine Semenyo.
This quintet, as well as one-cap Southampton defender Mohammed Salisu, significantly swell Addo’s options and boost the quality of the Black Stars’ starting XI.
Goalkeepers: Lawrence Ati, Danlad Ibrahim, Manaf Nurudeen
Defenders: Joseph Aidoo, Daniel Amartey, Baba Rahman, Alexander Djiku, Tariq Lamptey, Gideon Mensah, Denis Odoi, Mohammed Salisu, Alidu Seidu
Midfielders: Andre Ayew, Mohammed Kudus, Daniel-Kofi Kyereh, Elisha Owusu, Thomas Partey, Salis Abdul Samed
Forwards: Daniel Afriyie, Jordan Ayew, Osman Bukari, Issahaku Abdul Fatawu, Antoine Semenyo, Kamal Sowah, Kamaldeen Sulemana, Inaki William