PART ONE: WHAT IF AKONNOR FIELDED A LOCAL XI IN THE AFCON QUALIFIERS?
For one born in Nungua, a coastal Ghanaian town, Charles Akonnor would know a thing or two about fishing — about casting one’s net far and wide, and coming up with quite a catch.
Earlier this month, the Black Stars head coach cast his net into ‘unusual’ waters, coming up with a 32-man squad for March’s 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers drawn entirely from the domestic scene.
That list has been tweaked this week, with the two Division One League players — strikers Evans Etti and Welbeck Takyi — dropped, along with some of the Ghana Premier League stars. A couple of foreign-based professionals — China-based Mubarak Wakaso and Emmanuel Boateng — are included in the new list, and we might see some more in future revisions.
Imagine, though, that Akonnor decides to field an entirely local team against Sao Tome & Principe and South Africa — what might it look like?
Ink & Kicks‘ editorial team offers a glimpse in a three-part series this week, starting with the defence — a familiar one, if you support a certain Ghanaian club.
When Razak Abalora joined Asante Kotoko in October 2020, shortly after making his senior Ghana debut, it didn’t look like he’d walk straight into the first team. Even so, Abalora’s first league start for the Porcupine Warriors came only five match-weeks in — way sooner than anyone had anticipated — and he hasn’t let go of the No. 1 spot since.
In those nine games, Abalora — the biggest beneficiary of Kotoko’s December change in technical leadership, unarguably — has only conceded three times, as much as the total Felix Annan and Kwame Baah — his main challengers for that starting berth — let in during the preceding four matches.
Surely, any thoughts that Abalora’s return to the local scene could hurt his national team prospects has been quickly quashed, and he is almost guaranteed a place in the final squad.
Kotoko have conceded just six goals in 13 league matches this season, keeping nine clean sheets in all competitions, and some of the credit for building such a formidable rearguard goes to centre-back Ismail Ganiyu.
Currently in great form, it’s no surprise that Ganiyu’s performances have won over the Stars’ technical handlers. Ganiyu is just the breed of defender that the national team hasn’t had enough of in recent years: tall, athletic, strong in the air, a good reader of the game, capable of picking a pass, and an absolute joy to watch.
Yussif Mubarik hasn’t put a foot wrong since joining Asante Kotoko from regional rivals Ashantigold ahead of the 2020/21 league season. Together with the aforementioned Ganiyu, the pair has formed the meanest defence in the land.
Mubarik’s invitation to the Stars’ set-up is just reward for his excellence and consistency this term. The competition for places in the national team has always been tough, but the 25-year-old — one of the best around at what he does — has what it takes to cut it; refer to the sections on club teammates Abalora and Ganiyu for those numbers which breathe validity into that claim.
Having already made his Ghana debut in Akonnor’s first competitive game, against Sudan late last year, Christopher Nettey isn’t exactly an unknown quantity in the national team’s ranks.
The Accra Great Olympics old boy does epitomize the quintessential modern full-back, attacking as well as he defends and possessing an eye for that rare goal. Nettey is also good with the ball, and, when it’s lost, he has enough pace to make him efficient at recovery.
Another key asset in his repertoire is the ability to deliver incisive crosses into the penalty box, while he has also had international exposure for both club and country. All that, wrapped up in Nettey’s consistency and industry, marks him as the most suitable choice at right-back.
Nettey’s impressive displays are matched by Ibrahim Imoro’s own performances for Kotoko on the other flank.
Not to be outdone — shades of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool in the last few seasons — the former Karela United player has taken his game several notches higher since the arrival of former U-20 starlet Patrick Asmah.
With two goals — crucial and well-taken — already in the current campaign, Imoro has exhibited impressive attacking verve, without compromising his defensive edge. Combining brains with brawn to devastating effect, it’s not easy to envision the 21-year-old prince of Wechiau — should he add an extra layer of commitment to his craft — as a potential world-beater.