Ghana arrived in South Africa in the early hours of Wednesday morning, passed their Covid-19 tests, and trained at FNB Stadium in the evening minus three players from their original squad of 29.
The Black Stars – like Bafana, their opponents at FNB Stadium on Thursday evening (kickoff 6pm), and many squads across the continent for the final two rounds of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers – have been hit by withdrawals. This has been due to European clubs not releasing players over Covid-19 concerns, after a Fifa circular detailing they did not have to.
Ghana, perhaps, are hit that margin harder, as for South Africa Bongani Zungu and Dean Furman are their major overseas-based stars who will not meet the Black Stars. Zungu is expected to join the SA squad in Khartoum for the final Group C match on Sunday. Crucially, Brighton star Percy Tau has arrived.
Ghana coach Charles Akonnor – the ex-midfielder who played in the Black Stars’ famous 3-0 1996 Nations Cup semifinal defeat to Bafana – already had to leave out big stars Jordan and Andrew Ayew, and Thomas Partey, from his 29-man squad named last week.
Of those 29, Ghana arrived in Johannesburg three short with 26 – with Celta Vigo (Spain) goalkeeper Joseph Addo, Vitoria Guimaraes (Portugal) defender Gideon Mensah and Mallorca (Spain) midfielder Idrissu Baba the players who did not arrive.
Ofori is among more experienced players – along with the Amiens (France) pair of defender Nicholas Opoku and midfielder Emmanuel Lomotey, and Pyramids FC (Egypt) forward John Antwi – who will be expected to guide young players such as Ajax Amsterdam’s Kudus Mohammed (20).
Akonnor sounded quietly confident that Ghana, despite their withdrawals, and with a local-based portion of their squad who have trained together for more than a month in Accra, can beat Bafana.
“I mean it’s a different ball game altogether,” he said, asked how the match in Johannesburg compares to Ghana’s 2-0 win against South Africa in the Group C opener a year-and-a-half, and a global pandemic, ago in Cape Coast.
“That was our home, this time we are in an away match – it’s their home ground.
“I’m very hopeful. From what I’ve seen of the last weeks, if we are able to implement it here we’ll get a good result.”
Kwesi Appiah, the coach of Ghana when they beat SA in the opener, was replaced by Akonnor in January.
Bizarrely, from a South African perspective, Caf’s head-to-head ruling means that win or draw against Ghana, Bafana will almost certainly still need a draw against Sudan in their final match in Khartoum to qualify.
— Ghana Football Association (@ghanafaofficial) March 24, 2021
Ghana warm up for training at @FnbStadium for the Afcon qualifier v @BafanaBafana tomorrow (6pm). The Black Stars arrived in the early hours of this morning, minus three players – read @TimesLIVE and @SowetanLIVE in the morning to find out who they are pic.twitter.com/X9aDich5at
— Marc Strydom (@marc_strydom) March 24, 2021