Should Ghana conquer Wembley this evening, they would be the first African team to beat England: it would be an achievement befitting a team that has the potential to be the finest that continent has produced. Had Asamoah Gyan scored his injury-time penalty against Uruguay in Soccer City last year, Ghana would have made their case for that title, as the first-ever African World Cup semi-finalists. He did not, though, and so the Black Stars will have to wait until Brazil 2014. As their youngsters can show this evening, they have the ability to make a real splash there.
The traditional problem for African teams has been using a good World Cup run as a platform for further successes. There were two African quarter-finalists before Ghana, and neither has then even grazed their original achievement. Cameroon did it in 1990 but have won just one of their 12 World Cup fixtures since, while Senegal, who vanquished France in 2002, were unable to reach either of the last two tournaments.
There is little risk of a repeat with Ghana. They are blessed with a core of excellent professionals, most of whom are familiar to Premier League watchers. Asamoah Gyan is the lively, inventive knife-tip of the front-line for both Ghana and Sunderland. He is joined at the Stadium of Light by Sulley Muntari, his former team-mate at Udinese. Muntari has not always played as prominent a role for his country as he might have wanted but his power and energy in midfield were good enough for Jose Mourinho's all-conquering Internazionale side. Kevin-Prince Boateng, excellent at Portsmouth last year, will not play this evening but is a regular for Serie A leaders Milan.
But it is their promise-crammed youngsters who are the most alluring. Tonight André Ayew, a gifted and confident 21-year-old who plays for Marseilles, should start on the left wing. He nearly played international football for France, where he was born, but his preference for Ghana will provide them with natural width for the next decade. In midfield will be 22-year-old Kwadwo Asamoah, who impressed with his energetic prompting in the World Cup and is following in the tradition of Gyan and Muntari by making his name in Udine; he is at the heart of the team now fourth in Serie A. These two are joined by Schalke's 24-year-old holding midfielder Anthony Annan. There is a demonstrable prospect for a strong showing in Brazil.
Some of these younger players were involved in the 2009 Under-20 World Cup, which Ghana won. As the first African side to win the tournament, the Ayew generation already has a meaningful place in the history of the continent's football. They beat England 4-0 in the group stage and overcame Brazil in the final.
It barely needs to be mentioned that international football is littered with unfulfilled generations. Not just the English players born around 1980, but those Portuguese players born in the early 1970s, the first ever "Golden Generation", who somehow failed to win an international tournament. But there is potential in Ghana for an exceptional side.
Ghana's current form is itself notable. A third-place finish in the 2008 African Nations Cup was followed by a defeat in the final last year. They ought to win next year's tournament, and their record in qualification is good – they won 3-0 in Congo on Sunday. Their performances in the World Cup were bright and fearless and, with a little luck, they would have breached the final four. Should the core of the side denied by Uruguay be synthesised with the next generation, a process on display at Wembley this evening, the madness of Soccer City might be rendered trivial.Reuse content