Accra, May 29 (DPA) Already considered one of Africa’s most powerful national teams, Ghana proved they may be even more difficult to handle at next month’s World Cup with their performance at the Africas Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Decimated by injuries to their first team before the continental finals, the Black Stars fielded a young side based largely around players that won the U-20 World Cup in Egypt late last year.
The understudies proved they were ready for the bright lights, winning their way to the final, only to be beaten 0-1 from a late goal by the dominant force in the tournament, Egypt.
It was invaluable experience for a team that just made their World Cup debut at Germany 2006, where they were the only African team to reach the knockout rounds before falling to Brazil in the second round.
They will have a difficult time replicating that achievement in South Africa up against three-time champions Germany, Serbia and Australia in Group D.
But coach Milovan Rajevac will be buoyed by the surprising run in January that included gutsy 1-0 victories over hosts Angola in front of a thunderous Luanda crowd in the quarter-finals and West African rivals Nigeria in the last four.
Young defender Samuel Inkoom and midfielders Kwadwo Asamoah and Andre Ayew, the son of Ghana legend Abedi Pele, proved that they are quite ready to step into the breach when needed, which they might be if Ghanas injury jinx continues.
The Black Stars have fitness worries over veterans Stephen Appiah, John Mensah and with midfield icon Michael Essien ruled out with injury the worries have doubled. Out of action since picking up a knee injury in Angola, the talismanic Essien is a vital cog in Rajevacs plans, but the Serb should have a talented spine of a team to call on if Essien misses out.
Midfield is a strong spot for the Black Stars, with Tony Annan and Kevin-Prince Boateng holding things down, while Inter Milans Sulley Muntari pushes things forward from either flank.
The defence relies on Fulhams John Pantsil, back from injury, and versatile Bayer Leverkusen veteran Hans Sarpei. Goalkeeper Richard Kingson rarely plays for Wigan in England, but he has been solid as Ghanas first choice.
Up front, Rajevac can call on the Stars top scorer in qualifying, Matthew Amoah, their top scorer in Angola, Asamoah Gyan, or U-20 World Cup top-scorer and best player Dominic Adiyiah, who moved to Italian giants AC Milan this year.
The first African nation to qualify for the finals other than the hosts, Ghana are as well placed as any team from the continent to make an impact this summer. The difference could be the health of Essien, who is one of Africas most influential players.
But Rajevac and his squad have proven they can overcome massive obstacles. We miss Essien a lot when he doesn’t play. He is a special player for us,’ said Rajevac after Januarys Cup of Nations. But we managed to build a strong spirit in the team, and we learned a lot for the future.’
The coach: Little known outside of his native Serbia before taking over Ghana in the summer of 2008, coach Milovan Rajevac has since become a well- respected figure in Africa. Under his charge, the Black Stars breezed to qualification for the 2010 World Cup, and they finished second at the Africa Cup of Nations this past January despite a run of injuries.
He prefers his Ghanaian side to play with one striker and five midfielders, although he sometimes sends them out in a 4-4-2 formation. The 56-year-old was a player and coach mostly in his homeland previously. He spent time managing Red Star Belgrade and gained some notoriety for leading small clubs FK Borak and FC Vojvodina into the UEFA cup.