Having qualified for the 2006 and 2010 finals, Ghana's Black Stars were eager to make it a hat-trick by booking their place at next year’s FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil. As one of the top-ranked teams in Africa, Ghana were always a favourite to grab one of the five places reserved for the continent, and they did not disappoint their fans despite a difficult path through the preliminaries. FIFA.com looks back at five key components to Ghana’s successful qualifying run.
Sticking with the tried and tested
Many heavyweights of African football would have replaced their coach and brought in new players after being beaten by Burkina Faso (albeit on penalties) and Mali at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in February this year. One of the pre-tournament favourites, Ghana left South Africa having finished fourth - a disappointing result for a nation desperate to win another continental trophy after over three decades. Rather wisely, officials decided not to ring in wholesale changes, sticking with coach James Kwesi Appiah. The former Black Stars' captain, who in turn kept most of his players, repaid the officials for their faith by taking the side to Brazil. The nucleus of the squad has been together for a long time now and this has worked wonders for the confidence of the team.
Zambia lose the plot
Having beaten the Black Stars at home, Zambia were in control in Group D ahead of their away trip to African footballing minnows Lesotho. However, a very late equalizer for the Likuena (Crocodiles) by Litsepe Marabe not only cost Zambia two points, it swung the pendulum back in Ghana's favour. An even costlier draw for Zambia at home against Sudan in their penultimate game left Ghana firmly in the driving seat, as all they needed to escape the group phase was a draw from their final match against the Chipolopolo.
The return of the prodigal sons
German-born midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who threw in his lot with the country of his father, retired from international football during the 2011/2 season. The Ayew brothers Jordan and Andre, who are the sons of former African Footballer of the Year and Ghana captain Abedi Pele, followed suit after the Africa Cup of Nations finals in South Africa. Both had been omitted from Ghana's squad for the tournament. However, all three players made themselves available for selection to the squad midway through the year and together with another returnee, Michael Essien, were called up for Ghana's decisive game against Zambia. The decision went far beyond merely strengthening the team on the pitch, and it sent an important message that another bite at the World Cup apple was more important than any individual concerns.
Winning when it matters
Going into their last match against Zambia in Kumasi, the Black Stars needed just a draw to escape the group phase, whereas Zambia needed to win. Ahead of the game in Kumasi both sides were involved in some mind-games, with the Zambian players saying that they would definitely win in Ghana, especially given their good history against the west Africans. However, it was all very different on the pitch as a capacity 40,000-person crowd in the Baba Yara Stadium saw Majeed Waris opening the scoring just 17 minutes into the game, thereby settling any big-game jitters the Black Stars' players might have. When Kwadwo Asamoah added a second a few minutes after the break, Ghanaian fans already started celebrating. Although Nathan Sinkala pulled one back for the southern Africans, they were never in with a chance of grabbing the victory they needed and instead left Ghana just two games away from a third consecutive World Cup appearance.
Hitting a peak at the right time
There are days in football when just about everything goes right for one team and just about everything goes wrong for another. It was such a day on 15 October, when the Black Stars faced Egypt in the first leg of the play-offs. Egypt coach Bob Bradley recalls that the home side had their first chance within 15 seconds of the game starting, and from there, it just went downhill for his side as Asamoah Gyan scored the opening goal in the fourth minute. Egyptian captain Wael Gomaa made it two with an own goal midway through the first half. Egypt were thrown a lifeline shortly before the break when Mohamed Aboutrika converted from the spot, but Warris restored the two-goal lead just three minutes later. A spectacular performance in the second half saw the Black Stars add three more, with Gyan grabbing his second and Sulley Muntari and Christian Atsu adding the others. The 6-1 scoreline all but guaranteed Ghana a place at the finals, and even though they lost the return leg in Cairo 2-1, it made no difference to the outcome of the tie.