Can Chris Hughton Guide the Black Stars to AFCON Glory?

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The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) takes place in the Ivory Coast from January 13 to February 11, with Ghana looking to become champions for the fifth time. Ghana was last crowned AFCON champions in 1982, although the Black Stars navigated their way to the final as recently as 2015 but lost on penalties to the Ivory Coast. Head coach Chris Hughton, who has a Ghanaian father, knows how important AFCON is to Ghana and is determined his squad progresses as deep as possible in this year’s competition.

According to the best online sportsbooks, Ghana is the ninth favorite to win the 2023 AFCON. That sounds about right, as FIFA, world football’s governing body, ranks the Black Stars as the 61st-best team in the world. Between 2008 and 2017, Ghana twice finished as AFCON runners-up and never fell below fourth place. However, they bowed out during the Round of 16 in 2017 and failed to progress from the group stage in 2021, the latter being a bitter pill to taste.

Hughton began working with the Ghana national team in February 2022, first in a technical advisor role before being appointed head coach a year later. He has been in charge for nine games and has won four, drawn two, and lost three, although two of those defeats were in friendlies against Mexico and the United States, ranked 46 and 49 places above Ghana, respectively.

Ghana and Egypt Are Group B Favorites

Ghana was drawn in Group B of the 2023 AFCON, meaning they face Egypt, Cape Verde, and Mozambique. The top two teams automatically advance to the knockout stage, with third place possibly progressing depending on how the other third-place finishers perform. Ghana should occupy one of the top two positions alongside seven-time AFCON champions Egypt. Ghana has never lost to either Cape Verde or Mozambique.

Ideally, the Black Stars will win their group because this gives them a potentially easy route towards the final. However, Hughton is confident that his 27-man squad has another firepower to worry any opponent they encounter in the Ivory Coast.

A Look at the Ghanaian Squad for the 2023 AFCON

Hughton selected a 27-player squad with a nice blend of experience and youthful exuberance. Three goalkeepers are in the squad, and it is this position where Hughton seems undecided about who to select. Lawrence Ati Zigi, Richard Ofori, and Jojo Wollacott made the cut, but none of them has more than 25 international appearances under their belt.

In defense, Daniel Armartey is one of the first names down on the team sheet. Now playing for Besiktas in Turkey, Armartey spent eight seasons in the English Premier League with Leicester City, so he is used to playing against top attacking talent. 

Mohammed Salisu, Gideon Mensah, and Alidu Seidu should feature alongside Armartey; all three ply their trade in France’s top division. Salisu, in particular, has bags of talent. British club Southampton, then in the English Premier League, spent £10.9 million to bring Salisu from Spain to England. Southampton were relegated to The Championship last season, and Salisu now plays his club football for French giants AS Monaco.

Midfield is one position where Hughton has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Mohammed Kudus, now of West Ham United, has been in scintillating form for his club, scoring ten goals in 23 appearances. Andre Ayew is vastly experienced, having played almost 550 games for various clubs and over 115 times for Ghana. Indeed, Ayew is Ghana’s most-capped player and sixth in the country’s goalscoring charts.

Ayew’s brother, Jordan Ayew, only needs four more caps to reach the milestone of 100 appearances for the Black Stars. Of course, both Ayews are the sons of the Ghanaian football legend Abedi Pele.

Hughton has also called up Osman Bukari and Joseph Paintsil to his AFCON squad; both players have enough skills and tricks to cause opposing defenders a headache.

Unfortunately, there is no room in the squad for Thomas Partey. The Arsenal midfielder has only played four Premier League games this season due to an ongoing thigh injury and is not set to return to full training until January 20. Hughton would have loved Partey in his AFCON squad, but he simply is not fit enough.

Only three strikers are in Ghana’s 27-man squad, although several midfielders can play further forward if needed. Inaki Williams has eight goals in 19 games for La Liga’s Atheltic Bilbao this season and could provide the necessary firepower to propel Ghana to glory. The relatively untested Jonathan Sowah and Antoine Semenyo round out the forwards. Semenyo has been playing as a second striker for AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League this season, scoring three goals in 15 appearances.

Can Ghana Go All the Way in the Ivory Coast?

After disappointing at the previous two AFCON competitions and crashing out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar at the group stage, the Ghanaian national team will do everything possible to restore some faith and pride. What better way to do that than by putting together a deep run in the Ivory Coast?

Ghana should advance from Group B alongside much-fancied Egypt but must navigate past the potentially tricky games against Cape Verde and Mozambique, two teams who will feel they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Once Ghana is through to the knockout stages, anything could happen. The team is defensively sound and has some talented, skillful midfielders and wingers who other teams will not enjoy facing. However, there are question marks about the goalkeepers and a potential lack of firepower from the strikers. Ghana’s success may boil down to how well Inaki Williams and Antoine Semenyo perform in the Ivory Coast.

Can Ghana win the 2023 AFCON? Sure, they can, even if doing so requires a lot of luck, especially in the next draw. Even if the boys do not return home as champions, the country will be proud of them if they give 100% in every game, as every true Ghanaian should.

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