Heading to their third World Cup, and looking to build on their previous achievements reaching the last 16 on their debut in Germany, and that quarter-final against Uruguay in South Africa in 2010, Ghana have been handed a place in a very tricky group along with Germany, Portugal and the USA.
In the frenetic world of CAF qualifying, Ghana went through pretty comfortably, topping a group with Zambia, Lesotho and Sudan, winning five of six, only losing away at Zambia. They went on to hammer Egypt 6-1 in the first leg of the play-offs, rendering the 2-1 second-leg loss slightly academic. Abdul Majeed Waris started both games, and scored in the first, a key goal just before half-time when it was still only 2-1 to Ghana.
Waris was one of the transfers of the January window in Ligue 1 when Valenciennes brought him in on loan from Spartak Moscow. Before moving to Russia, where he struggled for game-time, he played for BK Häcken in Sweden, notably scoring five goals against IFK Norrköping on his way to becoming the Allsvenskan’s top scorer in 2012. Looking around for opportunities for regular games with an eye to the World Cup, he fetched up in Valenciennes, who were already down in the relegation zone, where they had been since game five. He scored on his debut – a 3-2 win over Bastia – and he was off. Nine goals in sixteen matches was a hell of a haul – and given that the rest of the Ligue 1 scoring charts featured players who had played for the full season, he was actually the second-most efficient marksman, only that man Zlatan beating his goals per game ratio.
The goals tailed off at the end of the season as Valenciennes’ plight became inevitable – he didn’t score after game 32 and the 2-1 defeat to Lyon , and he missed a couple of matches due to minor injuries. However, Waris made the VAFC fans believe, particularly when he got the winner away at relegation rivals Evian, and both goals in the heartbreaking 3-2 loss against lanterne rouge Ajaccio, as well as in the 2-2 draw to Sochaux, also fighting for their lives. His efforts eventually came to nothing, leaving him in tears as his adopted club was relegated, but he has expressed the desire to stay in France next season.
First called up to the national team in early 2012, you can understand why he was desperate for game-time to cement his World Cup place. Ghana’s attack is spearheaded by captain Asamoah Gyan, and Waris has Marseille/Sochaux’s Jordan Ayew as his direct rival for back-up centre forward, both of them on a dozen caps, and sharing the playing time in the recent friendly loss 1-0 to the Netherlands.
Waris is a good finisher who likes to dribble past opponents, but he is more than just a goalscorer; as well as topping the Allsvenskan’s scoring chart in 2012 with 23 goals, he was also joint fourth for assists with nine, the highest-placed forward, which he continued in France, laying on five assists at Valenciennes as well. Both he and Ayew are just 22, have gone through a mid-season loan move, the pain of relegation, and are looking to their future club careers – Waris has the edge on the stats, and on keeping his head. In the Group of Death (or at least, one of them – let’s not get into the FIFA rankings debate again) he could be a crucial factor if Ghana are going to pull off a surprise.
Unused in the first match, a 2-1 loss to the USA when Ghana equalised through Andre Ayew late on before John Brooks sent the USA wild with an even later winner, Waris may be hoping that James Appiah decides to change up the front four that started that match (Gyan, the Ayews, and Christian Atsu) when Ghana face Germany later today. While Kevin Prince Boateng came on as substitute against the USA, Waris is now apparently fully fit, and could be just the man to breathe new life into Ghana as he did for Valenciennes.