Sports Mole previews Friday’s World Cup Qualifying – Africa clash between Ghana and Madagascar, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Group I in the CAF World Cup qualifiers will kick off this week, with Ghana taking on Madagascar at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi on Friday evening.
The Black Stars are heavily fancied to get off to a winning start and are the pre-tournament favourites to top this group, which also features the Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros and Mali.
Despite being one of the most decorated nations in the continent, Ghana have fallen in ranking in recent years, now in 11th place among all African nations, according to FIFA’s points system.
The Black Stars had a solid Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign over the last couple of years, winning their group with 12 points and maintaining an unbeaten record during that time.
However, since then, they have experienced a slight dip in form and come into this match following two consecutive losses against Mexico and the United States last month.
While losing to those higher-ranked opponents away from home may be excusable, the major concern for Chris Hughton will be that his side were unable to find the net even once in either of those games but let in six in that time.
Nevertheless, back on home soil here, the hosts will be full of confidence as they have an excellent home record behind them with nine consecutive wins, including a 3-0 win over this opponent back in January.
In contrast, Madagascar had a very poor AFCON qualification run as they finished at the bottom of their group with just three points and failed to win any of their six matches in the competition.
However, their performance in those qualifiers were arguably not a fair reflection of their ability, as they showed at the start of the year when they finished in a very credible third place at the CAF African Nations Championship.
Notably, Barea were drawn in the same group as the Black Stars in the Nations Championship as well and beat them in group stages, which was made up of just three teams after Morocco withdrew from the competition.
The visitors claimed a 2-1 win over Benin in a friendly last month to snap up a five-match winless streak, and while the odds are stacked against them in this match, it would not be a complete shock if they managed to sneak a result in this one.
Ghana form (all competitions):
Madagascar form (all competitions):
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The Blacks Stars have brought three goalkeepers, Lawrence Ati Zigi, Jojo Wollacott and Richard Ofori, to this competition, though the former is expected to get the nod between the sticks for this first match.
Andre Ayew has been short of match time in recent months but is expected to start this match alongside Joseph Paintsil and Mohammed Kudus, while Thomas Partey should slot in as the deepest-lying midfielder.
Tsiry Tokinantenaina and Jean Yves Razafindrakoto both got on the scoresheet for Madagascar against Benin last month and should keep their places in the starting 11 for this match.
Loic Lapoussin was an unused substitute in that match but is expected to return to the attack here alongside Arnaud Randrianantenaina.
Ghana possible starting lineup:
Zigi; Seidu, N. Opoku, J. Opoku, Mensah; Partey, Owusu; Kudus, Ayew, Paintsil; Williams
Madagascar possible starting lineup:
Adrien; Rabemananjara, Ramanjary, Razafindraibeharimihanta, Fortun; Lalaina, Ilaimaharitra, Tokinantenaina, Raveloson; Randrianantenaina, Lapoussin
We say: Ghana 2-1 Madagascar
While the visitors are the clear underdogs heading into this match, it is worth noting that they are unbeaten in their last two matches against this opponent; however, both of those matches were on their home patch.
We are still expecting a whole-hearted performance from Barea but feel that the Black Stars will make their home-ground advantage count by coming out as narrow winners.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.