Although he is just 22, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu is already a seasoned CAF African Cup of Nations campaigner. The Udinese midfielder is competing in his third AFCON finals and is hoping to help Ghana to their first continental title in 31 years. The ‘Milling Machine’, who scored the winning penalty for Ghana in the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup final, has played an important part in his side's progress in South Africa as the Black Stars are well poised to qualify for the knock-out stages. He won the man-of-the-match award for his performance in Ghana's 2-2 draw against Congo DR, scoring one of the goals that gave the Black Stars a two-goal lead.
In his side's next match, Agyemang-Badu was brought down by a Mali defender, and Mubarak Wakaso scored the only goal of the game. Again he was recognised as the best player on the field, winning his second man-of-the-match award. Agyemang-Badu joined the Serie A club Udinese in 2010 and has since established himself in the side. He tells FIFA.com that he and his team-mates are eager to put an end to the Black Stars fans' lengthy wait for a continental title.
FIFA.com: What are your impressions of the early stages of the tournament?
Badu: The tournament has started very well, and I’m loving every moment of it. We have played two games - drawn one and won one. We were disappointing against Congo DR as we gave away a two-goal lead for the draw, but we came back strongly to beat Mali in our next game.
Are you surprised about the performances of some of the teams here?
Yes. Teams like Ethiopia and Cape Verde have really surprised me. Even Niger too, I knew nothing about them, but they are playing some good, well-organised football. Every team participating deserves to be here.
You are not yet assured of a place in the quarter-finals yet and are taking on Niger on Monday. What do you know about them?
I watched their game against Congo DR, which ended in a goalless draw, and they appeared a very tactically disciplined side. It is very difficult to penetrate their defence and they have some quality players who can give opposing teams some sleepless nights. They often play a relaxed game and then can catch you by surprise on the counter. So, we must be cautious while going forward as we need to defend as well. We respect every team, but fear no one.
Will this be your most difficult game at the tournament so far?
Yes, because [Niger] are a difficult side to play against. They were very unlucky to have lost against Mali in their opening match, and we all saw what they did against Congo DR, where they secured a draw. We will do our best to get the maximum points, though.
Have you been happy with your performance in the two matches so far and what do you hope to achieve?
I think I have done my part, but there is room for improvement. This is my third Africa Cup of Nations and as a young player, it means a lot to me. I can only hope for more appearances at the highest level of African football. I have gained some experience and am looking forward to an injury-free outing. Last year was full of setbacks for me as I suffered recurring injuries that affected my performance. I missed some crucial games, but I pray that 2013 would be a much better year for me. I love challenges and this is what has kept me going so far.
Ghana last won the tournament in 1982. Since then you have often been amongst the favourites, but have always failed to repeat that triumph. Is the team under pressure to finally deliver?
There is no pressure on us. We want to achieve something for ourselves and our motherland. I have confidence in this team and each player here deserves to be on the final squad. Of course, there are several other teams in contention, like the defending champions Zambia, or the Ivory Coast, who are the highest-ranked team in the competition. You also have the hosts South Africa and Nigeria. However, this tournament is full of surprises, which makes it very difficult to predict the outcome of a game.
What do you personally hope to achieve at this competition?
I want to help the team to break the 31-year jinx of not having won the Cup of Nations. I also hope to find my best form and be recognised for my performance. But the most important goal is that the Black Stars win the tournament after such a long wait.