Coach Chris Hughton will begin his era as the head coach of the Black Stars today when he leads the team’s training today in Kumasi after being unveiled to the media at a ceremony at the Semenhyia Golden Mall at Ayigya.
However, all eyes will be on Ghana’s 2024 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Angola at the Baba Yara Stadium on Thursday with the coach leading the team for the first time.
Ghanaians have high expectations of the 64-year-old coach to turn the team’s fortunes around due to his credentials as an elite coach, as well as his familiarity to the players and the environment as the Technical Advisor to his predecessor, Otto Addo.
Despite Ghana’s disappointing performance at the 2022 World Cup where the Black Stars exited at the group stage, many are optimistic Hughton’s era could lead to a successful era that could see the team winning the next AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire to end a trophy drought that has lasted more than four decades.
As a key member of the team’s technical department, Hughton’s appointment was strategic to ensure a smooth transition and continuity, and his 25-man squad for the AFCON double-header with the Palancas Negras reflected this philosophy to build on the gains of the Otto Addo era, with most of the players being part of Ghana’s World Cup squad who had also worked with the highly respected head coach.
Already, Southampton centre-back, Mohammed Salisu, has expressed delight in playing for the national team on home soil for the first time.
Raised in Kumasi, the defender called Thursday’s match a “homecoming” and it reflects the players’ excitement at the new challenge under Hughton who has invited a number of World Cup absentees such as goalkeeper Joseph Wollacott, Joseph Paintsil, Majeed Ashimeru, Edmund Addo and Ransford Yeboah Konigsdorffer a chance to fight for a place in the team.
Also given an opportunity is the debutant young defender, Patrick Kpozo of Moldovan topflight side, Sherif Triaspol.
Coach Hughton will not lack talents in his squad, with Ajax midfielder, Mohammed Kudus, in the form of his life, having contributed 18 goals across all competitions this season for the DutchEredivisie side. Skipper Andre Ayew leads the English Premiership sextuplets of Thomas Partey, Daniel Amartey, Antoine Semenyo, Jordan Ayew and Salisu.
Paintsil’s absence from Ghana’s World Cup squad raised a lot of eyebrows but the Genk forward has not taken his foot off the accelerator and has scored 13 goals across all competitions for the Belgian side this season. He could be fighting for a first team place after a year’s absence from the team since Ghana’s abysmal 2021 AFCON campaign in Cameroun last year.
For Angola coach, Pedro Goncalves, he has a tough test knowing the Palancas Negras have just one victory against the Black Stars in their previous five matches and breaking Ghana at their own backyard will not be an easy task.
The 47-year-old coach has also assembled his best players for this duel, with the likes of Pedro Miguel, Manuel Cafumana, Benedito Mukendi, Jacinto Dala, Manuel Afonso, M’bala Nzola and Eddie Afonso and Predro Fancisco among some of the top players he would invest his faith in.
Five of their players are from the Angolan champions, Petro Atletico, with Nzola of Italian Serie A side, Spezia Calcio, as the ‘man to watch’ in the Palancas Negras.
The 26-year-old forward has been performing well in the Serie A with 12 goals and two assists in 22 appearances in the league, and he is the third highest scorer in the Italian topflight behind Napoli’s Victor Osimhen (21 goals) and Inter Milan’s Laurato Martinez (14 goals).
Also included in the Palancas Negras squad is Egyptian Premier League top scorer, Agostinho Cristóvão Paciência (Mabululu) of Ittihad Alexandria, Rio Ave's Jacinto Gelson Dala, and Nuriu Fortuna of Belgium Jupiler League side, KAA Gent.
Ghana and Angola are equal on points in Group E with the Black Stars leading the group on superior goal difference following their 3-0 victory over Madagascar and a 1-1 draw with Central African Republic in June last year.
The Angolans defeated Central Africa Republic 2-1 in the first qualifier and held Madagascar to a 1-1 draw.
Central African Republic (third place) and Madagascar (fourth place) both have a point each and the two clash in back-to-back qualifiers on March 23 and March 27.
Incidentally, their only victory against Ghana was in June 1997 in an AFCON qualifier in Luanda.