Four-time winners of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the Black Stars of Ghana, are in the eye of the storm as the 34th edition of the biennial football showpiece is set to kick off in Cote D'Ivoire.
Ghana, having won the AFCON four times (in 1963, 1965, 1978, and 1982) and been runner-up five times (in 1968, 1970, 1992, 2010, and 2015), cannot be termed as outsiders when talking about the countries in contention to win Africa's biggest sports prize.
The pedigree of Ghana in international rankings reached a high of 14 according to the FIFA World Rankings 2009, as the Black Stars secured a 100 per cent record in their qualification campaign, becoming the first African team to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Playing at AFCON 2013, Ghana became the only team in Africa to reach four consecutive semi-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations twice, from 1963 and 1970 and from 2008 and 2013.
Dating back to history, Ghana made the first entry into the AFCON showpiece in 1961 when Charles Kumi Gyamfi was appointed as the coach in 1961, resulting in the country winning successive African Cup of Nations titles in 1963 and 1965.
The Black Stars achieved their record win, 13–2 away to Kenya, after the second of these. The team also reached the final of the tournament in 1968 and 1970, losing 1–0 on both occasions, to DR Congo in 1968 and Sudan in 1970. However, their domination of the tournament earned them the nickname "the Black Stars of Africa" in the 1960s.
The Black Stars of Ghana, however, suffered a change of fortune thereafter as they failed to qualify for three successive African Cup of Nations in the 1970s. After Nigeria won the 1980 AFCON, Abedi Pele propelled the Black Stars to beat Libya in the 1982 African Cup of Nations final hosted by Libya to win their fourth and last continental title.
The Black Stars of Ghana were knocked out of AFCON 1984 in the group stages and did not qualify for the 1986, 1988, and 1990 tournaments. In 1992, they became the runners-up to Ivory Coast in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw, with Abedi Pele suspended for the final.
Prior to the year 2000, tensions among the squad led to interventions to settle issues between star players Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah. The generation of Black Stars players who went to the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship final became the "core" of the team at the 2002 African Cup of Nations and qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
After going unbeaten in 2005, the Ghana national football team won the FIFA Best Mover of the Year Award and reached the second round of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. In the 2015 AFCON, Ghana reached the final, only to be denied the title on penalties against Ivory Coast. Their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations campaign ended in a 4th place finish, and at the 2019 AFCON, they were eliminated by Tunisia in the Round of 16.
In 2021, Manager Rajevac was brought back, but the Black Stars failed to win a match at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, failing to progress beyond the group stage. They drew 0–0 in a match against Nigeria and drew 1–1 in Nigeria to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup on away goals.
As the 2024 AFCON draws near, many pundits have predicted that Ghana would head into the tournament with mixed emotions. The Coach of the team, Chris Hughton, is having a rough spell in charge. The Black Stars find themselves in a tough Group B, labeled "The Group of Death," alongside Egypt, Cape Verde, and Mozambique.
Ghana had an underwhelming qualification to the AFCON, but they will have a point to prove this winter, especially after failing to make it out of the 2021 AFCON and another underwhelming performance at the 2022 FIFA World Cup group phase last year.
Ghana's poor result in Qatar led to the end of former manager Otto Addo's tenure, and now it's up to Hughton to inspire the nation's bid to win their first AFCON title since 1982. Expectations are high for Ghana, but fans are concerned about the form of the Black Stars, who have not reached the last eight of a Nations Cup since 2017.
The challenges the team faced were evident in qualifying, as the team lacked cohesion, the technical team looked unsettled with changes in selection, and fan apathy was apparent after repeated poor performances. The Black Stars struggled in the first half of all games managed by Chris Hughton, with just one of their nine goals scored under him coming in the first 45 minutes.
Hughton, before joining Ghana's technical staff in February 2022, spent his entire managerial career in England. Despite his wealth of experience, Hughton has come under scrutiny, winning less than 50 per cent of matches as Black Stars manager.
Goals have been at a premium for the four-time AFCON winners, failing to get on the scoresheet three times during their last four-game sequence. With Partey potentially ruled out, Ghana faces a challenging task in AFCON 2024.
In terms of personnel, Ghana has impressive players, but a lack of team chemistry has hampered their ability to perform consistently. The prediction for Ghana at AFCON 2024 is challenging, with a tough group and concerns about form and consistency. Reaching the final looks like a difficult task at this point, and the team must overcome hurdles to recapture the elusive AFCON crown.
The coach, Chris Hughton, is confident, but the challenges are significant, especially in a tough group. Ghana's success depends on key players like Mohammed Kudus, who has been in incredible form at West Ham. The absence of Thomas Partey could be a major blow to Ghana's chances.
As the Black Stars head to Cote d’Ivoire, their performance will determine whether they can reawaken history and compete for the AFCON title in what promises to be a dynamic and transformative tournament for Ghana.