A bittersweet feeling has marked striker Asamoah Gyan’s history with his national team, but the talismanic striker says he is feeling positive about Ghana’s chances of winning their fifth African title at this month’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The Black Stars, who were continental champions in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982, have reached the semi-finals of the last three events, and they are anxious to break the voodoo against the other 15 finalists in South Africa.
Set for his fourth successive appearance at the AFCON, Gyan has only five goals in the finals so far, but he insists his record of 28 goals in 60 appearances with the Black Stars should be enough to seal the lips of critics. “I’m not disturbed because my ratio of goals with the national team is impressive,” he recently told FIFA.com. “It is natural people expect you to score as striker, but it is not always so. Sometimes you have to create the chances for others to also score. I always do my best to help the team to victory.”
Still just 27 years old, Gyan was not born the last time Ghana won a major trophy at full national team level, but he says the mood in the camp is positive as the side try to compliment their positive recent history. “I’m very hopeful we can break the jinx and end the long wait for the African title,” he admitted.
Back among the Stars
Twice the Al Ain forward has opted to prematurely fold up his international career after denunciation from supporters - the latest after last year’s tournament staged in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea - only to announce a return four months later. But the captain has always been closely integrated with his team-mates, and Ghana have generally fallen in well behind leaders like the legendary Abedi Ayew Pele, Stephen Appiah and lately John Mensah. It is a legacy that Gyan takes seriously. “I have so much respect for Appiah. He was such a great leader on both ends - on and off the pitch - and so was Mensah. They taught me a lot and with the support of my colleagues, we should deliver the ultimate,” he said.
On the journey to the top in South Africa, the Black Stars must contend with old foes, Mali, Congo DR and Niger in Group B where they will be housed in Port Elizabeth. Gyan says the group test will be trying even before they consider taking on the big guns of Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and holders Zambia. Mali, for instance, beat Ghana for the bronze medal in the last championship. “No team can be underrated at this level. All four sides in the group are strong contenders. We played Mali at the 2012 edition and saw their performance. Niger, though not a big team, has a strong side and can always cause an upset.” he remarked.
En route to South Africa, the Black Stars will camp in Abu Dhabi, a city where the Ghanaian forward is idolised for his striking abilities for local side, Al Ain. He is the current top scorer just behind his 22 goals netted last season, and this past year has arguably ranked as a career-best for the former Udinese, Modena, Stade Rennes and Sunderland hitman, winning his first ever league title and the golden boot, both with Al Ain before capping it with being named Ghana captain. However, he suffered a blow a few days after accepting the armband with the death of his mother through a motor accident. “ was a positive one for my career, but with some good and bad moments. Losing my mum was a big blow. But I’m mentally strong and focused now.”
A return to South Africa
More pain is invoked for Gyan when one mentions South Africa, where his last-gasp penalty miss against Uruguay during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ cost Ghana a historic place in the semi-final. And after missing again from the spot as the Black Stars bowed to the eventual winners Zambia at the last AFCON, the 27-year old has given up on spot kicks. Of his 21 goals for Al Ain this season, six were via penalties, but the two misses with the national team continue to haunt him. “I will no longer take penalty kicks for Ghana. My mother advised against penalties, and since she is no more, I have to heed to her advice.”
Gyan played no part in the Black Stars’ opening two games in the Brazil 2014 qualifiers, against Lesotho and Zambia, which came during his self imposed exile, but he has pledged his commitment for the remaining matches to ensure a third successive Mundial berth.