Ghana make their second consecutive appearance at a World Cup Finals in South Africa. After a respectable last 16 appearance in 2006, the Ghanaians will be looking to go one step further this time around.
At the head of their strike force will be 24-year-old Asamoah Gyan. Although appearing at his second finals, Gyan’s relatively low-profile domestic career means he could pose an unknown threat to opposition defences in Group D.
Despite Gyan’s noticeably unassuming goal scoring stats at club level, with 14 goals in 41 games for his current side, Rennes, the forward has shown glimpses of his undoubted potential. Not least at the last World Cup in Germany when Gyan’s performances probably didn’t receive the credit they deserved, often finding himself in the shadow of other talented performers Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari.
It was at 2006 tournament where Gyan netted Ghana’s first-ever goal at a World Cup. Indeed, it was also the quickest of the whole competition, recorded at 68 seconds against the Czech Republic.
However, all was not rosy in 2008 when Gyan’s family received death threats following Ghana’s 1-0 win over Nambia during the African Cup of Nations. Supporters were reportedly unhappy at chances that had been spurned by the former Udinese striker. Gyan threatened to quit but players rallied round to keep him with the squad.
Speaking at the time, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien said; “I don’t think it’s good to insult him because he’s a young lad coming up and he’s been doing really well.”
Two years on though and Gyan showed his strength of character when became the catalyst for the Black Star’s run to the 2010 African Nations final, scoring three out of the four goals scored by the team.
A player whom possess predatory instincts inside the opposition penalty area and is unafraid to try the audacious, Gyan is likely to be the sole striker for the 66/1 rank outsiders. Another impressive performance at this year’s World Cup though would surely provide recognition for an underrated star of African football.
Believe it or not, 2004 European Champions Greece are competing in only their second World Cup tournament.
Otto Rehhagel’s side will come face-to-face with old adversaries Argentina and Nigeria, who they met in their only previous appearance in 1994. In fact, Greece lost all three games in 1994 and failed to score.
Helping to record the Greek’s first World Cup goal and subsequent points may be Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, a name that will send shivers down the spine of every commentator this summer.
A player who is fairly versatile, Christodoulopoulos can play up front, just behind the strikers or even in a wide position – his adaptability could certainly aid the Greek cause. Renowned for his long-range shooting and exciting technical ability, the 23-year-old is just starting to make a name for himself in his homeland with Panathinaikos.
Despite mainly being used as a substitute this season (mainly down to the form of Djibril Cisse), Christodoulopoulos’ impact from the bench has impressed coach Otto Rehhagel and could be the German’s secret weapon in South Africa.
In 2006 Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez handed Christodoulopoulos a trial with the Anfield club. Reportedly, the Reds were keen on securing the services of the striker but were unable to seal a deal with former club PAOK.
Christodoulopoulos wasn’t best pleased and fell out with the club. The Greek has never been afraid to hold back his fiery personality on and off the pitch, leading to a lack of appearances for his ex-club throughout 2006-07.
At 23 Christodoulopoulos will be looking to make a name for himself (sorry, bad pun!) on the world stage after being denied a dream to Liverpool four years ago.