The Black Stars of Ghana are on a mission to win the 32nd Africa Cup of Nation (AFCON) and their fans expect the golden generation of players with the likes of Asamoah Gyan and the Ayew brothers to finally deliver on the big stage.
Once a force in African football, the Black stars have been underachievers in recent years despite boasting of highly talented stars such as Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan, Thomas Partey, Jordan Ayew, and his brother Andre. The Black Stars have won the AFCON title 4 times but they have not won any major title since their last AFCON win in 1982.
The Ghanaians have had to be content with qualifying for the World Cup while lesser ranked teams like Zambia have lifted the AFCON ahead of them. This golden era began when Asamoah Gyan made his international debut at the age of 17. He engraved his name in the history books by scoring a 90th-minute goal on his senior international debut for Ghana against Somalia in November 2003.
Gyan came on for Isaac Boakye in the 62nd minute in a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier, three days before he turned 18 years; helping Ghana to win that game, and making him the youngest ever player to score for Ghana. He went on to represent the nation at the 2004 Olympic games and the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany where he scored the fastest goal of the tournament after 68 seconds against the Czech Republic.
He missed a penalty in that game and picked a yellow card for cheating before taking the spot kick. His antics proved costly for the Black Stars later in the competition when he was sent off after picking up a second yellow card for diving against Brazil.
Gyan became the poster boy of the national team as Steven Appiah, Sulley Muntari and Micheal Essien gradually faded out to allow the youngsters that went on to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009 step up in the national team. As early as 2008, Gyan was regarded as a team leader and was slammed by the fans for the poor performances of the team after an unconvincing 1-0 over Namibia at the African Cup of Nations.
Ayew lived up to his family name as he captained the Black Satellites of Ghana to victory at both the 2009 African Youth Championship and the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup. He scored important goals against Cameroon and South Africa establishing himself as a natural born talent that could lead Ghana to glory. Although Dede, as he is fondly called in Ghana, was put under pressure because he is the son of Abedi Pele, he handled it well as a superstar.
He was called into the national team in 2007 by Claude Le Roy for the team’s friendly match against Senegal on 21 August. He made his international debut in the match appearing as a late-match substitute. Ayew was named to the Ghana squad to play in the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations where he formed a formidable partnership in Ghana’s attack with Asamoah Gyan.
Ayew and Gyan’s partnership gave Ghanaians hope in 2010 when they combined to lead the Black Stars to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. The Ghanaian team was ravaged by injuries but they only lost narrowly to an Egypt side that was one of the best in the history of African football. Gyan and Ayew showed their importance to Ghanaian football as both of them combined to score all the goals for the team during the competition.
Gyan and Ayew continued their partnership at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where the Black Stars came within touching distance of making history. Both players combined to beat the United States of America at the round of 16 with Ayew assisting the game-winning goal scored by Asamoah Gyan after sending a lob–pass into the United States defence, which Gyan collected and then converted.
Against Uruguay, Gyan lost an all-important penalty in extra-time that would have made Ghana the first African team to play in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Jordan Ayew joined the dynamic duo in the national team set up when he was called up to represent the Black Stars during a 2012 AFCON Qualification match against Swaziland in 2010. The Ayew brothers lined up with Gyan at the 2012 AFCON finals and got to the semifinals of the tournament losing narrowly to eventual winners, Zambia. Gyan lost another crucial penalty in the game continuing the trend of missing out on glory by narrow margins.
With this generation of stars, Ghana became the only team in Africa to reach four consecutive semi-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations twice when they reached the semifinals of the competition in 2013 (from 1963 and 1970 and from 2008 and 2013). The Black Stars continued to thrive as they reached the semifinals of the 2015 and 2017 editions of AFCON. They lost to Ivory Coast on penalties in the final of the 2015 tournament and finished fourth in 2017.
As the 2019 edition of the AFCON finals approach, Ghanaian fans would worry that this would be the last chance for this generation of footballers led by Gyan to deliver a title.
The 33-year old striker retired from international football when he was informed that he would not be captaining the side in Egypt and only came out of retirement after the intervention of Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana.
While the Ayew brothers are 29 and 27 respectively, it is likely that this will be the last tournament that the three stars play together. Gyan might not even lead the line in Egypt but he is the most experienced striker in the squad and would be expected to deliver the goals for the Black Stars. He has established himself as a legend of Ghanaian football making the most appearances and scoring the most goals for his national team, but he might be remembered for the crucial misses that ended the lofty dreams sold to the fans at major competitions.
After reaching six consecutive semifinals at AFCON, this is probably the last time that the trio of Gyan and the Ayew brothers would line up for Ghana at a major competition. While the Black Stars have other talented players like Christian Atsu, Thomas Partey, Kwadoh Asamoah, and Baba Rahman in the squad, this might be the last chance for Gyan and the Ayew brothers to deliver a title for the Black Stars.