Ghana head to Qatar for the World Cup desperately hoping to avoid a repeat of their last major tournament.
At the Africa Cup of Nations in January, Ghana, four-time winners of the continental competition, failed to make the knockout round for the first time in 2006 following a shock defeat to minnows and debutants Comoros.
Their humiliating exit saw them fail to win a match in 22 appearances at the finals and finish bottom of their group.
The Black Stars sacked coach Milovan Rajevac following their dismal AFCON showing and Otto Addo, a former Ghanaian international, steered them to World Cup qualification after taking the reins.
But Ghana have struggled for form since edging out Nigeria for a place in Qatar in a tie marred by crowd violence in the second leg.
Such is the level of concern over their recent travails that some are even calling for Addo to be replaced before the World Cup, while the country itself has sought divine intervention by having two national days of prayer and fasting in a bid to reverse their fortunes ahead of the tournament.
Thomas Partey will be one of the standout names heading to the World Cup for Ghana
The Black Stars are typically backed by a fervent and boistrous crowd but that is unlikely to be the case in Qatar
It is little wonder they are taking such drastic measures.
Ghana have won just two of their 12 matches this year. They were held to a 1-1 draw by the Central African Republic, ranked 132 in the world by FIFA, in their first AFCON qualifier in June, before being thrashed 4-1 by Japan and drawing 0-0 with Chile.
Results didn’t get much better in September, when they were outclassed by Brazil and only recorded a narrow 1-0 win over Guatemala, ranked 81 places below them, in a recent friendly.
But there remains a feeling that Ghana have the players at their disposal to be a real force in African football and perhaps even cause an upset at the World Cup, where Addo’s charges have been drawn with Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea in a difficult Group H.
Ghana secured their place in Qatar with a narrow play-off victory over Nigeria in March
Several of their most recognisable players ply their trade in the Premier League, with Brighton right-back Tariq Lamptey – who switched his allegiance from England earlier this year – set to join the likes of Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey, highly-rated Southampton centre-back Mohammed Salisu, Leicester defender Daniel Amartey and Crystal Palace forward Jordan Ayew on the plane to Qatar.
Ghana also possess dangerous frontman Inaki Williams, the Athletic Bilbao striker who ditched Spain in favour of playing for the African country, and Mohammed Kudus, the Ajax star who is turning heads across Europe.
Off the pitch, Chris Hughton is involved in the Ghana set up as technical advisor and was linked with the manager’s job when Rajevac was dismissed.
Here, Sportsmail looks at their key men and how they can help Ghana emulate their heroic compatriots of 2010, who were a blatant Luis Suarez handball away from a possible place in the semi-finals.
Brighton full-back Tariq Lamptey chose to represent Ghana over England earlier this year
Partey is unquestionably the biggest name on the Ghana teamsheet. The Arsenal midfielder endured a frustrating start to life in the Premier League after joining from Atletico Madrid for £45million in 2020, but has been a key performer in the Gunners’ blistering start to the season this time around.
The 29-year-old will have the weight of his nation on his shoulders in Qatar. If he performs well, Ghana stand an outside chance of sneaking into the knockout round as all three of their matches are expected to be close.
But his exact position and role for Ghana remains up in the air, a problem Addo will need to address if they are to get the best out of him at the World Cup.
Position: Attacking midfield
The Dutch side were gutted in the summer as several of their best players, such as Antony and Lisandro Martinez, left the club for pastures new.
Kudus breaking through has softened that blow – domestically at least – and the 22-year-old is undoubtedly one to watch at the tournament in Qatar.
Mohammed Kudus will be one to watch for Ghana at the World Cup in Qatar in the winter
Kudus has been in superb form for Ajax – both at home and in the Champions League – this year
He has caught the eye with his performances in Holland this season and there is no better stage to cement your growing status than a World Cup.
Club: Athletic Bilbao
Ghanaian fans, officials and players alike were delighted when Williams decided to switch his allegiance from Spain to the African nation.
The 28-year-old is in the prime of his career and has made a decent opening to the LaLiga campaign, with five goals in his first 12 appearances.
Overall, he has 80 goals for the Spanish club, but offers much more than simply putting the ball into the net.
Inaki Williams switched his allegiance from Spain in a huge boost for the Ghana squad
His brother Nico could also go to the World Cup – but for Spain, as he has not followed Inaki in representing Ghana.
Salisu has been one of Southampton’s standout performers even though the South Coast side have struggled in the Premier League so far this season.
The commanding centre-back, 23, joined Saints in 2020 and has quickly become one of the first names on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s teamsheet.
Ghana fans will be hoping he carries his club form into the World Cup, where he is sure to be tested against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and – injury permitting – Son Heung-min.
He is another member of the Ghana squad that could put himself in the shop window with a solid showing in Qatar. But first he will be tasked with helping his country get out of what has been dubbed in the African nation as the ‘group of death’.
Mohammed Salisu has been one of Southampton’s standout performers despite their poor season