Africa's qualification matches to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil resumes across the continent this weekend, with Ghana's Black Stars to take on Sudan at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, Ghana's second commercial city, on Sunday in one of these qualifiers.
Forty nations will exhibit their football artistry in 20 tough games in the African qualifiers under the charge of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and football governing body, FIFA.
Despite being touted as one of the hottest favorites to win the recently held 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tourney in South Africa, the Stars failed to glitter. They could not live up to this pre-tournament hype and had to manage with the fourth position after being beaten by fellow West African neighbors, Mali.
Ghana has however dusted itself and focused attention on the upcoming tough FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Sudan on Sunday after the 2013 AFCON fiasco.
THREATS OF THE SUDANESE
Though all has not been well with the Black Stars, especially after the 2013 AFCON, they still remain a strong favorite to beat Sudan at their backyard on Sunday.
Even though the Black Stars beat the North African country end- to-end on its way to reaching the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, they should not take the upcoming encounter lightly as Sudan is ready and prepared to stage an upset.
Having been deducted three points for fielding an unqualified player during their World Cup qualifying match on home soil against former African champions, Zambia, Sudan is coming into Sunday's game like a wounded lion searching for one to prey on.
Sudan is no weak opponent; the Black Stars will thus come up against a determined side also pushing for a World Cup qualification just like Ghana.
A win on home soil would see Ghana's point tally increase to six points and boost the West African country's confidence of going into the remaining qualifiers.
RESIGNATION OF THE AYEW BROTHERS
Ghana has been hit with the temporary resignation of brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew from the national team. The pair has requested a brief absence from the Black Stars, citing varied reasons.
Despite being written to by the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to rescind their decision to quit the team, the duo stayed put to their earlier stance. Their reason was that they were left out of head coach James Kwesi Appiah's 24-man squad to face Sudan.
Not even appeals from Ghana's soccer-loving fans as well as their teeming followers are enough to convince the two players to don the national jersey anytime soon.
Matters worsened after Abedi Ayew 'Pele', father of the duo, who ply their trade at French side Marseille, waded into the dispute and supported the actions of his sons, expressing disappointment over Appiah's handling of the issue.
Insiders believe the action by Abedi's poster boys will in the long run affect the unity in the camp of the Black Stars. Some of the players said to have been taken aback by the decision of the Ayew brothers, have expressed their unflinching support to any moves against bringing the two back to the team.
In fact, the Ayew brothers are not the only Ghanaian players to have asked for temporary leave of the team. Michael Essien and Captain Asamoah Gyan have also taken similar decisions in the recent past.
It is an undeniable fact that team unity is key to the success or otherwise of every side. The selected players who featured for Ghana at the 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa were said to lack the kind of team unity that propelled the country's emergence at two straight world cups in Germany (2006) and South Africa (2010).
KWESI APPIAH AND PLAYER COMMITMENT FACTOR
Black Stars' coach Appiah last week named his 24-man squad to face Sudan on Sunday. It included five debutants, including England-based Emmanuel Frimpong and relatively unknown David Accam who plays for Helsingborg in Sweden.
Appiah received a lot of flak following Ghana's abysmal performance at this year's AFCON. He was blamed for Ghana's defeat to neighbors Burkina Faso at the semi-finals at the AFCON for substituting Ghana's highly performed player at the tournament Mubarak Wakaso in that game.
Appiah took the blame for the team's poor showing at the competition.
But against Sudan and in the remaining matches in the qualifiers, Appiah, who will be in the saddle on Sunday, has no excuse to fail to put together a formidable side to emerge victorious and put the final seal on Ghana's World Cup qualification.
Many have called for his removal but the GFA has kept faith with him and given him another chance in the World Cup qualifying matches.
At the Baba Yara Stadium where Ghanaian players feel very much at home, Appiah and his charges have to prove Ghanaians wrong by putting up a vintage performance to beat Sudan convincingly.
Ghana beat Lesotho by 7-0 at the same venue in their opening match of the qualifiers late last year.
Appiah must devise strategies and tactics capable of beating Sudan, Zambia and Lesotho at their own game. All said and done, Ghana is one jump ahead of Sudan and must beat the rest of the teams to top Group D.
KALUSHA BWALYA AND ZAMBIA FACTOR
The Chipolopolo, Zambia's senior national male soccer team, is currently sitting comfortably on top of Ghana's Group with six points. Their chances of qualifying to the elite football showcase have been enhanced after gaining three valuable points from Sudan after the North African country fielded an unqualified player during their tie in Khartoum last year.
Zambia, who meets whipping boys Lesotho in the other match of the Group, knows it must be very careful so as not to make mistakes or falter in the process.
It will be difficult for Zambia to lose focus after leading the Group standing for some time now.
For Kalusha Bwalya, President of the nation's Football Federation, it will be a dream come true should Zambia qualify for the World Cup for the first time during his tenure of office. He tried it on several occasions as a player but failed.
Analysts believe Ghana can out-stage Zambia to qualify to the next year's World Cup in Brazil when the Black Stars play under a huge change in mindset, develop the can-do spirit and exhibit some high level of commitment, dedication, determination and discipline.
For now, Appiah and his team will have another bite of the cherry to qualify Ghana for a third straight World Cup appearance and they dare not fail Ghanaians on Sunday in the presence of their teeming expectant supporters.
The Black Stars must overcome every challenge to climb to the top by winning all their remaining encounters to guarantee them a 2014 World Cup berth.