JOHANNESBURG: UEFA Champions League final loser Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid hopes to become a winner this week and help Ghana qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Partey came off the bench in Milan last Saturday, but could not prevent Madrid neighbors Real winning the European club football showpiece on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
However, his first national squad call-up should end happily as Ghana visit Mauritius, an island state they trounced 7-1 last June when qualifying for Gabon began.
Partey arrived in Accra Tuesday boosted by recent praise from hard-to-please Atletico coach and former Argentina star Diego Simeone.
“Thomas is on his way to becoming a top footballer and I hope to help him achieve that goal,” Simeone said of the 22-year-old central midfielder.
“He is developing as a footballer all the time and, although young, has strength, movement and can play between the lines.”
In the hyper-competitive Spanish La Liga, Partey made 13 appearances last season for third-place Atletico, including three starts.
An astute distributor of the ball, the Ghanaian lists Manchester City star and Ivory Coast captain Yaya Toure among the midfielders who have inspired him.
The Black Stars welcome back Swansea midfielder Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew, who will lead the team in the absence of injured captain and striker Asamoah Gyan.
Ghana are among 10 nations who could secure places at the 2017 finals after four days of qualifying, which start Thursday in the Seychelles.
The Black Stars have destiny in their own hands, as do Algeria, Cameroon, record seven-time Cup of Nations winners Egypt and Senegal.
Victories will place Cameroon and Ghana in unassailable positions while Algeria, Egypt and Senegal need draws to move beyond the reach of rivals.
Cameroon, who took Euro 2016 hosts France to the wire Monday before losing a friendly 3-2 in Nantes, have dropped captain Stephane Mbia for an away clash with Mauritania.
Algeria play Seychelles without injured midfield stars Riyad Mahrez, a key figure in the sensational English Premier League title triumph of Leicester City, and Yacine Brahimi.
School examinations prevented teenage Egypt star Ramadan Sobhy being called up for the trip to Tanzania in a group where three-time champions Nigeria are out of contention.
The Super Eagles are idle this weekend as planned opponents Chad withdrew halfway through the qualifiers due to a lack of funds.
Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali and Zimbabwe could also secure qualification if they win and get some help from rivals.
Minnows Guinea-Bissau can book a first appearance at the biennial African football showpiece if they win at home against Zambia and Congo Brazzaville lose in Kenya.
Zimbabwe can return to the big time after a 10-year absence provided they defeat visiting Malawi and regular Cup of Nations qualifiers Guinea do not win in Swaziland.
Among those set to start for Zimbabwe will be midfielder Khama Billiat, who was voted South African Footballer of the Season this week after helping Mamelodi Sundowns become champions.