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Akonnor to fall on local players Awako, Taylor, Annor make the cut

BY: Peter Sarbah
Gladson Awako
Gladson Awako

Black Stars coach, Charles Kwablan Akonnor, could be forced to rely on home-based players for Ghana's final Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against South Africa, and South Tome and Principe as the national team's management officials are envisaging possible difficulties in getting the cream of Ghana's foreign-based players released for next month's double header over COVID-19 fears and travel restrictions.

Coach Akonnor, faced with must-win situations in the two games to guarantee automatic qualification to the 2021 AFCON in Cameroun, wants to put his best foot forward by fielding his strongest possible squad dominated by his foreign legion.

However, the Graphic Sports has gathered that the FA leadership and the Black Stars management team have tasked the coach to consider preparing an additional 23-man squad on entirely local players as a fallback plan to represent Ghana in the rest of the qualifiers, in the unlikely event that his first choice foreign-based players are not released by their clubs due to COVID-19 concerns.

Inside sources told the Graphic Sports that the FA arrived at this decision following a marathon meeting with the Stars coach last Thursday when FA officials considered the possibility that some foreign clubs might put impediments in the way of invited players out of fear that they might risk contracting COVID-19 during the round trip to Africa, or that some travel restrictions and lockdown in parts of Europe would make it difficult for certain players to join the Black Stars camp.

The FA officials, according to our sources, were minded by the recent happenings in the national team after six players -- Jordan Ayew, Joseph Aidoo, Caleb Ekuban, Bernard Mensah, Gideon and Kassim Nuhu -- reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 on their return to their clubs after Ghana's friendly games against Mali and Qatar in Turkey last October.

The Graphic Sports understands that the coach initially presented a list of invited players which included just seven home-based players, but was advised to expand the list and build a squad of local players as a Plan B.

“The plans changed when the FA officials had deliberations with the coach and decided that a team of local players should be prepared in the unlikely event that the coach is unable to raise a team from among his foreign-based players due to the lockdown in Europe and other factors,” the source said.

Already the coach is said to have settled on leading local players, including Asante Kotoko goalkeeper Razak Abalora, Great Olympics midfielder Gladson Awako, Kotoko defender Abdul Ismail Ganiyu, the Premier League’s leading goal scorer Diawisie Taylor of Karela United and AshantiGold's leading marksman Yaw Annor, who have made the initial cut for the squad.

Akonnor, who has been travelling across the country to watch Ghana Premier League matches, is expected to cast his net wider to add more players and meet the team's management in the next few days to discuss his squad before the full list is made public.

“Some of these local players don’t have passports and other documents so the coach must come up with the list within the shortest possible time so they can quickly secure documents for those who are without travel documents,” the source hinted.

Nonetheless, the coach is not abandoning the foreign-based players altogether and is hoping to get some of his leading players to beef up the squad for the two important matches.

Ghana, currently sharing the top spot of Group C with South Africa with nine points apiece, will be away to South Africa on March 22 before hosting Sao Tome and Principe in the final Group C qualifier on March 30.