Venue: Baba Yara Sports Stadium, Kumasi
Time: 16:00 GMT/ 4pm (local time)
It is the beginning of the Chris Hughton era as Ghana host Angola in an AFCON 2023 qualifier.
Due to the fixture list, the return fixture will be played in Angola on Monday setting up a tasty double header. Things are finely poised ahead of Thursday’s Group E encounter as both teams have 4 points at the top of the group.
Ghana beat Madagascar 3-0 at home and then drew 1-1 with the Central African Republic (C.A.R) in a match played in Angola due to the civil conflict ravaging C.A.R.
Angola started their campaign with a 2-1 win against C.A.R and followed it up with a 1-1 away draw with Madagascar.
As the teams go toe to toe on Thursday it will be the first match of Technical Advisor turned Head Coach Chris Hughton. The 64-year-old is taking his first steps into National team football management after a long career in the English game where he managed over 400 games at various clubs.
Ghana are at a crossroads. Seen as a giant of African football their 40-year AFCON drought is a stain on their legacy and their 2021 AFCON campaign was the nadir with the Black Stars failing to record a win and losing to minnows Comoros to compound the embarrassment. Qualification for the 2022 World Cup against fierce rivals Nigeria gave Ghanaians reason to believe again but a poor showing at the tournament and a morale-crushing loss to the hated Uruguayans brought the Black Stars falling to earth.
Angola meanwhile have failed to reach the heights of the mid to late 2000s where against all the odds they qualified for the 2006 World Cup which they followed up with consecutive AFCON quarter-finals, the best performance of the national team.
Since then things have been lean and despite the expansion of the tournament Angola have only made 3 of the last 6 AFCONs and in each case failed at the final hurdle. After missing the last edition, the Black Antelopes will be desperate to return to Africa’s biggest stage.
The biggest question facing Chris Hughton is maximizing the talents of Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey. Partey has established himself as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. League leaders Arsenal have lost only 1 game he has started in winning 19 of the 23 he has appeared in.
He has married defensive solidity with precise passing and lethal shooting. Partey is 2nd in passes into the final third with 177 and is 9th in progressive passes with 173. He has also scored with 75% of his shots on target meaning when he does test the keeper, the keeper usually fails. In addition, he completes 73% of his take ons which is shockingly the lowest of his Arsenal career.
Less important but burning questions are that of how Mohammed Kudus and Joseph Paintsil will be deployed. On form they are Ghana’s best attackers, Paintsil has been one of the standout players in the Belgian top flight recording 12 goals and 10 assists in the league representing a career season for the forward.
Mohammed Kudus has fought his way into the Ajax lineup after starting his season on the bench. His 11 league goals rank 3rd in the Dutch Eredivisie and you would expect him to keep up his brilliant goal-scoring form which saw him net 2 goals at the World Cup.
The Black Stars will need to stop Angolan striker, M’Bala Nzola. Despite his name not being familiar to most Ghanaian fans, he is a player in great form. Only Victor Osimhen and Lautaro Martinez have scored more than Nzola (12) in Serie A. This is not a fluke as he managed 11 Serie A goals in 2020/21. It is likely the fact he plays for Spezia means he has flown under the radar but 12 goals for a 17th placed team is no joke and the Black Stars back line must be at their best to keep him quiet.