2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier: Black Stars to call Madagascar’s bluff
Ghana's journey to the next FIFA World Cup begins this afternoon, November 17, as Coach Chris Hughton leads his charges to face Madagascar in their opening group qualifier at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.
The Black Stars are very familiar with this type of journey, but their unimpressive run in recent times has created a state of uncertainty among fans despite having a home advantage against Madagascar, an opponent which normally would be expected to pose little or no threat to Ghana's ambitions.
The FIFA World Cup is the dream of every player and coach, so Ghanaians expect that the team will put their best foot forward to get off to a winning start in the campaign and also win back public confidence in the team in light of recent setbacks.
Qualifying for the World Cup is a key target for Coach Hughton, and today's high-stakes encounter will be a major test for the gaffer, who has come under fire over the team's below-par performance. With a balance sheet of three wins, two draws and two losses in seven games under his charge, the result of today's encounter is not only key to Ghana's
World Cup campaign but also to restoring confidence among Ghanaians in the coach's ability to turn the team's fortunes around and lead them to a fifth World Cup appearance.
Madagascar may not be considered a powerhouse of football on the continent, but in their recent encounters with Ghana, they have sent strong signals that they could be a threat to Ghana’s ambitions.
Last year, they stunned Ghana's Black Galaxies 2-1 in the Championship of Africa Nations competition, while the last encounter between the Black Stars and the Bereas ended goalless in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in Antananarivo, having lost 0-3 in the reverse encounter in Cape Coast.
Coach Hughton has good knowledge of the Malagasy side as a key member of Ghana's coaching team during the last two encounters (he previously served as technical advisor of his predecessor).
He has virtually the full complement of his top players, with the notable absence of England-based duo of Thomas Partey and Kamaldeen Sulemana due to injury concerns, but Ghana has veteran Andre Ayew back to lead the team in the first of the two Group I qualifiers.
The return of experienced centre-back, Daniel Amartey, and right-back, Denis Odoi, is expected to give goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi a better cover at the rear and ease some of the team's defensive worries, with in-form Kudus Mohammed expected to run the show in an attacking midfield position, while wingers Jordan Ayew and Joseph Paintsil provide support for the attackers, Antoine Semenyo and Inaki Williams will be hoping to end this goal drought for Ghana.
Madagascar's Head Coach, Romuald Rakotondrabe, is sounding positive that his team would attempt an upset at a venue Ghana have not lost in 23 years. Yesterday, he said in a pre-match interview that even though they had never beaten the Black Stars in a competitive match, they were going to do everything possible to achieve victory in Kumasi.
"We didn't come to Ghana for holidays. We came here to win the game,” he said.
The Baba Yara Stadium has always provided the ideal setting for the national team and fans are expected to turn up in their numbers again to support the team to victory.