To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.Now for one of the best African teams and, probably, the team that will draw the biggest home-continent bump.
GhanaGroup D THE BASICS
The Black Stars
White, Black, Gold
•How They Got Here:
Won their African qualifying group, beating out Benin, Mali and Sudan
•World Cup Pedigree:
Only their second Cup, they made it to the knock-out phase in 2006THE PLOT
Can Africa's most promising team overcome The Group of Death (again) to reach a point no other African team has ever reached, World Cup finals? On their home continent nonetheless?THE DIRECTOR
The Yugoslavian coach had never coached outside of Serbia before taking the Ghana gig. He seemed to do well in Africa Cup of Nations, but it's unknown how he'll handle the world's biggest stage.LEADING MAN
Chelsea's box-to-box midfielder is one of the world's finest players ... when healthy. If his knee has recovered, he has the ability to lead this team into the knockout stage. If he's out (or even not-quite 100%), Ghana will struggle.SUPPORTING CAST
(midfielder, Inter Milan) will co-anchor the midfield with Essien, as the two of them go, so goes Ghana;Stephen Appiah
(midfielder, Bologna) is the third part of The Black Stars' three-headed midfield monster, he's also the captain;John Mensah
(defender, on loan to Sunderland from Lyon) is a top-notch defender and the team's vice-captain;John Pantsil
(right back, Fulham) is an attack-minded fullback who once incited a near riot by waving an Israeli flag (he played there for several years) during a goal celebration for country;Asamoah Gyan
(forward, Rennes) will be asked to help give the midfield bite up front.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
The AC Milan forward was the MVP of Ghana's U-20 World Cup winning team and will look to work his way into the main squad as a sub at first, but will likely be starting if this team goes far.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
Michael Essien's knee ligaments. He hasn't played a game in 2010 because he hurt his knee in the Africa Cup of Nations.PRODUCTION NOTES
Expect a 4-4-2 that emphasizes possession and pressure. They are a big team that can use their height in the box, but this team will play through their strength up the middle of the park.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Excellent leading man (Essien, Christian Bale), very enjoyable style (physical attacking, gun-kata) and a serviceable supporting cast (Muntari, Appiah, Gyan, Sean Bean, William Fichtner, Taye Diggs) but got left in the dust by a more exciting/interesting contemporary (Ivory Coast or Cameroon, The Matrix or The Boondock Saints). But overlook them both at your own risk, they're very, very good.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
At over 90 percent, Ghana leads the world in the percentage of women aged 50 to 54 in economic activity.CRITICAL BLURBS
If (and it's a big if) they can get out of their group, they could really make a lot of noise. ... They are strong, creative and very, very physical. Muntari and Essien would play for just about every single team (yeah, maybe even Brazil!). ... Ghana is no stranger to the Group of Death, having been lumped with Italy, the Czech Republic and the United States in 2006. They survived to the knock-out stage. ... Surprisingly sturdy on the backline, but the goalkeeper, Richard Kingson (Wigan), isn't a world beater. The defense will have to keep teams out of the box. ...Best-case scenario?
A semi-final run. ...Realistic prediction?
Finishing behind Germany in the group, giving England fits in the second round, but ultimately falling short.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
There are two competing story arcs in the Ghana-Germany game on June 23rd. Both involve Kevin-Prince Boateng. First, he was born in Germany to Ghanian immigrants. Secondly, it was his tackle in Saturday's FA Cup Final that put German captain Michael Ballack on the bench for the whole Cup. And, while both of those are interesting, nothing can top the fact that if Kevin-Prince and his brother, Jerome (who opted to play for Germany) make the World Cup roster and see the field it will be the first time two brothers have competed against each other in a World Cup. (A five-minute Google search verified this.) How's that for dramatic?
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Japan, Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands
New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy
North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook