Chris Hughton begins his stint as head coach of Ghana with a mouth-watering Africa Cup of Nations qualifying clash against Angola at Kumasi’s Baba Yara Sports Stadium on Thursday.
The Irishman, who boasts a wealth of experience under his belt, will hope to hit the ground running as the Black Stars begin their quest for a 10th consecutive AFCON appearance.
The home-based Black Stars were left with a bitter taste of disappointment as their quest for the 2022 Africa Nations Championship crown came to an end in the quarter-finals.
Ghana were denied the Catbird seat in Group C courtesy of a shock 2-1 loss to Madagascar in the opener on January 15, but a comfortable 3-0 win over Sudan saw them rekindle their qualifying hopes before a 3-0 walkover victory over Morocco.
Having scaled through as runners-up, the West African giants were drawn against a rampant Niger side in the quarter-finals, where Imarana Seyni and Boubacar Hainikoye scored in either half to hand the Menas a comfortable victory.
With the home-based biennial showpiece now over, Hughton can now focus on his side’s quest for a place in Ivory Coast and their 10th consecutive Africa Cup of Nations Appearance since missing out in 2004.
The four-time AFCON champions kicked off their qualifying campaign with a 3-0 thrashing of Madagascar in June 2022, but quickly ran out of steam as they were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by Central African Republic four days later.
On the other hand, Angola’s outing at the January’s home-based CHAN was undesirably brief as they were sent packing in the group stages after picking up just two points from their three matches.
A 3-3 draw with Mali in their group opener, where they bottled a two-goal lead in the final 12 minutes, was a sign of things to come as Pedro Goncalves’s men were held to a goalless draw by Mauritania in their must-win group finale on January 20.
The Black Antelopes had shown promise going into the tournament, having enjoyed a perfect run in the qualifiers, where they picked up four wins from four matches while scoring nine goals and keeping three clean sheets.
Like Thursday’s hosts, Angola have also picked up four points from a possible six in their AFCON qualifying journey so far, only dropping points in a cagey 1-1 draw with Madagascar back in June 2022.
Four days earlier, the three-time COSAFA Cup champions kicked off their campaign with a hard-earned 2-1 win over Central African Republic, with Gelson Dala and Spezia’s M’Bala Nzola scoring second-half goals to complete a remarkable comeback.
Ghana and Angola are currently separated only by goal difference at the top of Group E, making this midweek contest nicely poised and a potential decider in their race for a spot in Ivory Coast.
However, the Black Stars hold a slight edge heading into the game, given that they have won each of their last six home matches across all competitions since a goalless draw with Nigeria in March 2022.
For his first game in charge, Hughton has called up a star-studded 25-man list, including skipper and Nottingham Forest striker Andre Ayew, who boasts 24 goals in 113 appearances to date.
Thomas Partey, who has been pivotal in Arsenal’s Premier League title charge, has also been summoned, alongside a host of England-based attackers like Jordan Ayew, Kamaldeen Sulemana and Antoine Semenyo.
In defence, Brighton & Hove Albion full-back Tariq Lamptey will be hoping to team up with league rivals Daniel Amartey and Mohammed Salisu, while Mohammed Kudus, who has caught the eye in the Eredivisie, will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
Meanwhile, Angola have named an experience-rich squad for their crunch fixtures, including 37-year-old goalkeeper Hugo Marques, who has made 18 appearances since his debut in August 2011.
Dala, has scored two of the Black Antelopes’ three goals in the qualifiers and the Al-Wakrah striker, who now has 14 international goals to his name, will be tasked with delivering in attack alongside former Leeds United man Helder Costa.
Goncalves has also given room for a few new faces, including the likes of Pedro Agostinho, Bruno Paz, and Casa Pia midfielder Beni Mukendi, who will be hoping to put on the nation’s colours for the very first time.
Ghana possible starting lineup:
Ati; Lamptey, Amartey, Salisu, Mensah; Partey, Samed; Sulemana, Kudus, J Ayew; Williams
Angola possible starting lineup:
Marques; Buatu, Gaspar, Ndefe, Afonso; Fredy, Show, Luz; Dala, Costa, Papel