Mohammed Salisu only recently arrived on the international scene, but could be a key player for Ghana at this year’s World Cup. Here, we take a look at the Southampton defender’s prospects in Qatar…
How did they qualify?
Without Salisu throughout the qualification process, Ghana scraped through to the play-off round by the skin of their teeth courtesy of a 1-0 win over South Africa in the final game of the group stage, usurping Bafana Bafana on goals scored.
That set up a two-legged showdown with west African rivals Nigeria, featuring Saints’ Joe Aribo, then still a Rangers player, in March.
After a goalless draw in Kumasi, Ghana prevailed with a 1-1 draw in the second leg away from home in Abuja, with Thomas Partey’s crucial away goal enough to book their place as one of five African nations heading to Qatar.
Thursday 24th November
Portugal vs Ghana
Stadium 974, Doha
ITV, 4pm GMT
Monday 28th November
South Korea vs Ghana
Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
BBC, 1pm GMT
Friday 2nd December
Ghana vs Uruguay
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
BBC, 3pm GMT
Will Salisu play?
Yes. The centre-back looks like an automatic choice for head coach Otto Addo, who Salisu revealed helped convince him to take the plunge into international football.
By the 23-year-old’s own admission, he “wasn’t ready” to play for his country, but the Black Stars’ ambitious approach lured him in.
With vastly experienced former Premier League manager Chris Hughton in place as Technical Advisor, the Black Stars have assembled a stronger squad that includes players who only recently declared for Ghana, including former England Under-21 international Tariq Lamptey, as well as Iñaki Williams (Spain) and Denis Odoi (Belgium), who both had senior caps to their name before switching allegiance.
Salisu made his debut as a substitute against Brazil in September, made his first start against Nicaragua in his second cap and scored his first goal on his third appearance.
Who are the players to watch?
Arsenal enforcer Partey is the most recognisable name to Premier League fans, whose club performances have been influential in the Gunners’ explosive start to the season.
Mohammed Kudus, a player who can operate in midfield, on the wing or even as a central striker, is making a name for himself as a star at Ajax, with 10 goals in 21 appearances for his club this season.
Up front, the introduction of Williams gives the attack a different dimension. The Athletic Bilbao marksman has pace in abundance and links the play well, making him a key focal point for the team.
Elsewhere, the Ayew brothers, Jordan and André, have nearly 200 caps between them, and remain influential figures with previous World Cup experience.
At the other end of the spectrum, London-born Bristol City youngster Antoine Semenyo is a bright spark who scored his first international goal in a 2-0 friendly win over Switzerland last week – as did Salisu, who will lead the defence.
What are Ghana’s prospects in Qatar?
The Black Stars are considered the outsiders of Group H, along with South Korea, with Portugal and Uruguay the obvious favourites to progress to the last 16.
The Uruguay fixture holds particular significance for the African country, who were controversially eliminated after Luis Suárez’s deliberate handball in 2010 gave Ghana the chance to reach the semi-finals from a last-gasp penalty, only for Asamoah Gyan to hit the crossbar before Uruguay prevailed in a shoot-out.
But that is the last game in the group, by which time the Black Stars must make sure they remain in contention. It remains to be seen whether the circus surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo will affect Portugal, Ghana’s first opponents, while the second game against South Korea is surely must win.
Should Salisu and co. find a way to defy the odds and reach the knockout stages, it doesn’t get any easier – they could face World Cup favourites Brazil in the last 16.