BOLOGNA, ITALY - MAY 09: Stephen Appiah of Bologna FC defends the ball during the Serie A match between Bologna FC and Catania Calcio at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on May 9, 2010 in Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Roberto Serra/Getty Images)
FIFA RANK: 32
Four years ago, I can remember sitting at a restaurant with some buddies preparing myself for what I thought would be a great day in U.S. Soccer history. The U.S. had just played Italy to a courageous draw a few days earlier, and needed a win over Ghana to advance into the next round of the '06 World Cup. I thought it was a sure thing. About 2 hours later, I sat stunned at what had just happened.
Ghana not only beat the U.S. to take the second spot in the group, they manhandled them. One of my friends, just as stunned, even made the comment, "How the heck are we losing to a team with a guy named Ping-Pong!" Well we did, and that's the moment I realized African soccer was for real.
I know we've previewed the host South Africa, but Ghana represents the first realistic chance an African nation has to move deep into this summer's World Cup.
The squad also known as the "Black Stars" because of the single black star on its flag was the shining star of Africa four years ago. They were the only African side to advance to the second round and they did it in their first World Cup appearance.
The Black Stars are loaded with studs. Most of the squad that dismantled the state's hopes, and mine, four years ago are back and more exprienced.
Stephen Appiah is the team captain and a rock in the mid-field. Sully Muntari and Asamoah Gyan are relentless on offense. And Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, also known as "The Bison" (how cool is that by the way), is considered the best box to box player in the game right now.
So what can possibly hold back another successful Ghana run? A few things. First, Essien (The Bison, I just like to say that) is recovering from an injury that's kept him on the sideline for months. And as of this writing, Essien still doesn't know whether he will be cleared to play. Second, the Black Stars were drawn into a tough group. This may not be the "Group of Death," but I consider it the "Group of Life Support." Germany, Serbia and Australia all pose significant problems.
Bottom line, Ghana has a chance to do some big things in South Africa. Expectations will be sky high even if Essien doesn't suit up and I just got a feeling the Black Stars will be magic this summer and make a deep run, possibly into the quarterfinals.
So i'm definitely on the bandwagon here, it just took me four years and an unforgettable beatdown to get on for the ride.
June 13 VS. Serbia - 9 a.m. CT (Expect a bruising, physical battle, but home field advantage should carry Black Stars)
June 19 VS. Australia - 9 a.m. CT (Another toss up, Aussie's are a little more skilled than Ghana, but I still see a draw)
June 23 VS. Germany - 1:30 p.m. CT (Marquee matchup in the group, both will likely be playing for their soccer lives)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: ALGERIA