Egypt were the side none of the seeded nations wanted when the third and final qualification draw was made – unfortunately it was Ghana who were believed to have drawn the short straw, in the process setting up the tie of the round.
The Egyptians after several turbulent years have somewhat regained their mojo under Bob Bradley – coasting through their qualification group with a 100% record, the only side in Africa who could boast such a stat.
That run has seen their stock rise so high that many were signalling this a tie to close to call.
At the halfway stage though the Ghanaians took the opportunity to remind us just how good they can be, clinching a sensational 6-1 victory which all but ends playoff – particularly considering the second leg looks unlikely to be played in Cairo.
It almost appears that whilst Egypt have been considerable talked up over the last six months, Ghana have almost become underrated.
This is a nation who reached the quarter finals of the lastWorld Cup and although they have failed to truly fulfil their expectations at the last handful of African Cup of Nations, their squad is arguably the strongest on the continent in terms of depth.
Not only that, but the current group are considerably superior to that of four years ago. The Black Stars themselves were hardly entering the playoff short of form either, having recovered from a slow start to come through a group containing 2011 ACON champions Zambia.
Asamoah Gyan the star of that side is now reaching his peak, had he not made the most waywardcareer move of heading to the Middle East he perhaps would now be one of the world’s most feared strikers.
In midfield Ghana are almost spoilt for riches, Kwadwo Asamoah and Patrick Agyemang-Badu are now both seasoned internationals despite their relative young years, whilst Sulley Muntari is playing the best football of his career.
Such is the Black stars depth in the centre of the park that Christian Atsu and Mubarak Wakaso, dubbed two of the brightest young talents in Africa were forced to settle for a place on the bench against the Egyptians.
Defensively things are not quite so encouraging with Jon Mensah continuing to struggle with injuries and Isac Vorsah seeing his form evaporate, nevertheless the protection given by that strong midfield means it is difficult for other African nation to expose such a weakness.
It should also be noted that there are several young defensive saplings starting to impress, most notably Rashid Sumailia who will surely soon be poached by Europe.
Coach James Kwesi Appiah should take huge credit in moulding the side into the force that we witnessed in the first leg.
The mastermind behind Ghana’s recent successful youth sides Kwesi Appiah’s appointment was still met with some uncertainty, yet he is significantly moving the nation forward – the failure to win the recent ACON was an undoubted disappointment, but that was influenced by playing their semi-final on a sandpit of a pitch which suited an inspired Burkina Faso perfectly. Under his guidance the youngsters are finding the transition seamless, with the older heads are leading by example.
Add Andre Ayew into that already mentioned high quality squad, largely considered one of the continents best players who has come out of self-imposed exile for the tie and suddenly it no longer looks the 50/50 clash initial thoughts suggested.
You could also go further with that theory and claim that the Pharaoh’s were fortunate enough to be lined up in one of the poorer groups in round two – Guinea were about as dangerous as their opponents got.
Despite this match up clearly favouring the Ghanaians, nobody foresaw such a brutal display in Accra. Egypt are still a side who possess plenty of quality and one who Bradley has made incredibly well organised, so to see them torn apart as they were on Tuesday was quite remarkable.
Egypt were clearly taken aback by coming against such a force, having enjoyed relatively a straightforward run of competitive games in the previous round of qualifying – but take nothing away from Ghana, who in Kumasi showed a glimpse of their potential.
Perhaps the biggest positive for the Black Stars was the influential return of Michael Essien, a man who has seen his football limited both domestically and internationally in recent years – yet on Tuesday night he produced the kind of display that made him one of the world’s best several years ago.
For the Egyptians it marks yet another sad near World Cup miss for the side that lifted three successive ACON titles between 2006 and 2010, this really was the final chance for that now ageing side to finally grace the world stage. Unfortunately this last mission almost came too late, particularly taking into account the quality that they were facing in the form of the ruthless Ghanaians – a side who could be set to become the new kings of African football.
The Ivory Coast are again the African side being tipped to cause the biggest impact in Brazil yet whilst theirs is a squad clearly entering its twilight, Ghana can call on a group of largely vibrant and youthful players whose best years might just be around the corner – of the current squad just five are over the age of 25 and of those two are keepers. Undoubtedly the shining African light four years ago, there is real potential that the Black Stars could well burn the brightest yet again.