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Ghana World Cup team is one of Africa's hopes to shine

Ghana's World Cup soccer team, with its strong players, coaching and history of success in 2006, hopes to do its country and continent proud.

A Ghana fan, with his head wrapped in a flag, watches his team play a match against Brazil at a fan festival in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 27, 2006. (Miro Kuzmanovic/Reuters)

Ghana World Cup Team Statistics: Group D

Status: Advance to round 2, advance to quarterfinals, knocked out quarterfinals.

World Ranking: 32

World Cup 2010 Results: 2-2-1

Total goals scored: 6

Total goals scored against: 7

Ghana World Cup Schedule: June 13 - Serbia (1-0 win); June 19 - Australia (1-1 draw); June 23 - Germany (o-1 loss); June 26 - United States (2-1 win); July 2 - Uruguay (2-4 loss).

Ghana World Cup Soccer 2010

Ghana was the first African nation to shake off the shackles of colonial rule. Its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, personally bestowed the nickname Black Stars on the soccer team, commemorating the name of the ship on which Marcus Garvey hoped to return black Americans to Africa. Today Ghana is the model of successful governance in Africa, a civilian democracy that has twice now witnessed peaceful transitions of power between parties.

Read all of GlobalPost's World Cup coverage

So is peace and stability a virtue for the soccer team? Ghana — with tremendous success at the youth levels, including the 2009 U-20 World Cup championship — has long been expected to be Africa’s breakthrough team and the timing and the terrain seem ripe.

The Black Stars were the youngest team as well as the most successful African side at the 2006 World Cup. Many of the players are now in their prime and appear to have matured together in relative harmony, even as they make a difficult transition to the type of defensive team that prevails in big tournaments.

Ghana World Cup History: Ghana debuted at the World Cup in 2006 and escaped the first round — the only African team to make the knockout stage — by beating first the Czech Republic and then the U.S. in a make-or-break game.

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Ghana World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Expectations are huge. Ghana’s successful 2006 Cup team has been bolstered by the talent off its 2009 U-20 World Cup winner. An Asian team, South Korea, reached the semifinals at the first Asian World Cup. Will an Africa team replicate that feat?

Ghana World Cup Team Coach: Milovan Rajevac

Rajevac seemed an unlikely choice, having never coached outside his native Serbia. But he has had tremendous success — easy qualification for South Africa, the finals of the African Nations Cup — while transforming Ghana from a freewheeling offensive-minded side to a tactical defense-first team.

At the ANC tourney, Rajevac says he told the Black Stars that the goal should be to win, not to play beautiful soccer. He repeated the game’s now familiar mantra: “Only the results matter.”

Ghana World Cup Team Strength: Even though the team's best player, Michael Essien, can't suit up because of injury, Ghana boasts a surplus of talent and strong legs in the midfield. And they play with tremendous energy and confidence.

Ghana World Cup Team Weakness: Where did the goals go? Despite reaching the finals of the ANC, Ghana scored only four goals in five games. Desperate for some vigor in its attack, the team tried — unsuccessfully — to lure 19-year-old, Ghanaian-born Mario Balotelli home from Italy.

Ghana World Cup Key Player: Asamoah Gyan

On a team in dire need of goal production a player who can score on the ground and in the air, with a flair for the quick strike, looms potentially large. The 24-year-old striker, who plays for Rennes in France, scored early on a powerful header off a corner kick to launch Ghana past Nigeria and into the ANC Finals. And his strike against Czech Republic, just 68 seconds into the game, was the fastest goal of the 2006 World Cup and keyed the 2-0 upset.

 

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