x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Asamoah Gyan injury adds to Ghana woes

Al Ain striker hurt during training ahead of Zambia clash.

Ghana players Derek Boateng, Asamoah Gyan, John Pantsil and Jonathan Mensah.
Ghana players Derek Boateng, Asamoah Gyan, John Pantsil and Jonathan Mensah.

As if the pressure building up on Ghana were not enough to preoccupy Asamoah Gyan ahead of their make-or-break World Cup qualifier, his own availability for the meeting with Zambia is now in doubt.

Gyan, the Al Ain striker and Ghana captain, limped out of training in Accra on Tuesday, and, as the Black Stars moved to Kumasi, site of today's contest, a thigh problem was still causing the medical staff some concern.

Gyan is Ghana's leading all-time scorer and author of four goals in their last three qualifiers, all wins which helped haul the Ghanaians back to the top of Group D, where they had been playing an uncomfortable catch-up.

Having lost to Zambia, the 2012 African champions, away, they were at the mercy of what is an unforgiving system to pick out Africa's five eventual travellers to Brazil next June.

Only the 10 countries topping their groups after this weekend's final games of the second phase will have a chance. Then they must face a brutal two-legged play-off.

A draw in Kumasi would suffice for the Black Stars. But they bear symptoms of unease.

It has defined their squad selection, with coach Kwesi Appiah appearing to soften on the position that he took ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations in January to exclude several high-profile, Europe-based players because they had not given evidence of the required commitment.

Controversially excluded then were the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, both of Marseille; Chelsea's Michael Essien, whose long-term knee problems have made him selective about his international outings, was also absent.

As for Schalke's Kevin-Prince Boateng, he had effectively announced his international retirement four months after the 2010 World Cup, where he made his senior competitive debut.

Gyan led a youngish group of players to the semi-finals at the Africa Cup of Nations this year. He has to impose strong leadership on a very different-looking group now, including both Ayew brothers, the former Black Stars captain Essien, and the maverick Boateng.

The Ayews' inclusion, it is rumoured, came at the behest of the state president's office, while Boateng and Essien prove that proximity of a World Cup tournament can be marvellous medicine against indifference to national duty.

Certainly, Essien's authority in midfield, Boateng's drive and the creative skills of the Ayews can add to Ghana's football, irrigate the supply lines to Gyan or whoever leads the forward line, but their edgy history with Appiah has the potential to disrupt preparations.

The head coach's fallout with AC Milan's Sulley Muntari, the experienced midfielder, already has.

Muntari is still missing after he insulted Appiah after being substituted in an earlier group game.

The door may reopen for him, should Ghana gain the point they need against Zambia, who have not been shy about predicting the Black Stars will be adversely affected by the unhappy baggage carried by the returnees.

But African football has always been peppered with late withdrawals by star players, sudden retirements and rescinded retirements.

Gyan has said no to Ghana in the past, just as Samuel Eto'o boycotted Cameroon for a period. Shikabala, the maverick Egyptian who had an eventful spell at Al Wasl last season, is a notoriously poor attendee of national-squad gatherings, but he is included in the Pharoahs squad for this weekend. He is not under pressure, however.

Egypt are safely through to the play-offs, while Cameroon are in one of the seven groups - including that of African champions Nigeria - where the top spot will only be decided over the course of two tense days.

 

sports@thenational.ae