Four-time African Cup winner Cameroon faces a 2-0 deficit ahead of its home leg against Cape Verde, Morocco also trails 2-0 against Mozambique and defending champion Zambia has a slim 1-0 aggregate lead to take to Uganda.
Former Fulham defender Paintsil hasn’t played for Ghana since March. Mensah, who plays in France, was captain of the team that lost in the semifinals at the last African Cup.
Midfielder Rabiu Mohammed of French club Evian and goalkeeper Philemon McCarthy also earned recalls, while striker Asamoah Gyan was again selected after his recent return to internationals.
Ghana has a disappointing 2012 African Cup to overcome after the World Cup quarterfinalists lost to surprise winner Zambia in the semifinals and eventually finished fourth.
The main qualifying competition for the 2013 tournament has been reduced to two frantic rounds of two-legged knockout games after the Confederation of African Football decided on back-to-back Cups in 2012 and 2013 to shift their continental competition to odd years.
CAF moved the African Cup to avoid it clashing with the World Cup and European Championship, meaning the normal group phase had to be dropped from a rapid nine-month qualifying window.
Under new coach Jean-Paul Akono, Cameroon – the country in the biggest trouble after the first legs – convinced Samuel Eto’o to return from his self-imposed international exile in a bid to overturn the two-goal deficit when it hosts Cape Verde.
Nigeria was held 2-2 in Liberia, while Central African Republic underlined the surprise progress of a number of smaller African football teams when it beat Burkina Faso 1-0 at home to give it a real chance of a first appearance at a major tournament. Cape Verde also has never qualified for the African Cup.
With its squad decimated by a string of suspensions from a match-fixing scandal, Zimbabwe surprisingly leads Angola 3-1 and could eliminate the former tournament host.
Top-ranked Ivory Coast – the losing finalist at the last Cup of Nations – beat Senegal 4-2 at home, while Mali is in control against Botswana after a 3-0 home win.
The second legs will decide the 15 teams to join host South Africa at next year’s finals from an initial field of 46. The games will be played Oct. 13 and 14.