A sleeper is an athlete or team that has slipped out of the limelight, but hopes to excite the imagination of fans by pulling off surprise victories against opponents that look better on paper. Example: Ghana.
Team: The Black Stars
Colors: White, red and yellow
The other Group D teamsGermany, Australia and Sloveniawill power the ball forward and force it down the pitch. The Black Stars, however, are all about control and finesse, similar to the Spanish club style of play. Ghana will attempt to dictate the game’s tempo using short passes. Then, when they suck in the defense, it’s off to the races as they try to free their strikers down the field.
Four years ago, this group of young players comprised the only African national team that advanced out of the group stage. As long as they can play their brand of tactical football, they’ll make their way to the knockout round.
Key Players: Michael Essien, Sully Muntari and Asamoah Gyan
Leading Ghana’s superstar midfield are Chelsea’s Michael Essien and Inter Milan’s Sully Muntaria duo that seems to cover more ground than anyone else on the pitch. One minute they’re defending inside their own box, and the next minute one of them is heading in a cross against the opposing keeper. The two can control a game with quick passes and pinpoint accuracy.
Another dynamic player is Gyan, whose breakaway speed allows him to score against the best. Defenders cannot afford to take their eyes off this talented 24-year-old. As long as these three players are healthy, Ghana will have a fighting chance.
Key Matchup: Ghana vs. Serbia
For Ghana to prove that their ’06 performance was no fluke, they must show up during the opening game against Serbia. If they’re a sleeper now, they won’t be after the first 45 minutes. Expect them to score early. Both teams are somewhat conservative, but in a group where winning could boil down to goals scored, both will probably loosen up and go for broke.
The Black Stars are the African team to beat. It’s hard to predict how Group D will turn out, but you can bet that the number two spot won’t be determined until the last minute of play.