Antonio Calanni, Associated Press
AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, left, of Ghana, vies for the ball with Inter Milan Argentine defender Walter Samuel during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Inter MIlan at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012.

JOHANNESBURG — Ghana hopes its gifted squad can finally end a run of near-misses at the African Cup of Nations and deliver a fifth title, 30 years after its last.

With Ivory Coast the biggest and maybe only real challenger at the tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the Black Stars are banking that a run of third and second at the last two African Cups continues with first this year.

Ghana's strength in depth means that even the absence of Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien with injury, and AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, who announced a surprise international retirement last year, hasn't badly affected its hopes.