As a young Ghana team still deal with the high of defeating hosts Angola in the quarter-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, their former mentor Claude Le Roy warned opponents that this Black Stars team is only getting up to speed.
Speaking after the hard-fought 1-0 triumph in Luanda Sunday, Le Roy said the four-time continental champions are starting to come together after a horrendous run of injury luck.
“I watched them play their first game in this tournament, and I had some reservations, but after three games, they look better. They are now keeping more possession. They are a young side, but what I like is that they fight very hard. But they are playing good football, you can see this in their organisation,” Le Roy told FIFA.com.
Full of potentialLe Roy is an ideal man to make an acute assessment on this emerging side, as he was in charge of Ghana’s last adventure in the Nations Cup on home soil in 2008. The side finished third, and the French boss left the Black Stars at the end of his contract soon after.
“I’m not going to try to sound like an expert and carry a (red) pen. That is not my job. All I believe is that this side can only get better. That is an advantage of having youngsters playing in a team -- with time they gain experience,” added the extensively travelled Le Roy, who has also coached Cameroon and DR Congo.
I watched them play their first game in this tournament, and I had some reservations, but after three games, they look better.
Ghana lost their opening match in Angola 3-1 to Côte d'Ivoire before rebounding to defeat Burkina Faso 1-0. With only months left before the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, Le Roy said he expects Ghana to pull a few surprises, although he will not predict that they will win the tournament. He also won’t get drawn into being too specific on the team’s current shortcomings. “It has been a good learning curve for the young players on the team. I’m sure they have seen their mistakes and will now work on rectifying them.
“Now they have another coach, and it is his job to identify weaknesses and work on them. Obviously there is still some work to be done, but again, it would be unfair for me to go out and talk about that. I loved that team a lot and still do,” admitted the bespectacled 61-year-old.
Concentration and confidence
Le Roy does say that the impressive performance against Angola showed that the side had ample mental strength, something that might help them mightily this summer. “One of the things we learned at the last (Nations Cup) was that once in the knockout stages you need to keep it simple. You have to be able to absorb the outside pressure. I think this is what plagued Angola in their match against Ghana.
“Expectations might be a problem when you know that people look forward to a lot from you. In South Africa, it will be the same with all of the African teams. They will be under intense pressure as there has been talk about an African team to win the event. The key is to keep your concentration.”
This sentiment was echoed by 21-year-old Ghana defender, Samuel Inkoom, who has been part of the patchwork defence hit by injuries to John Mensah and John Pantsil, but has come out of the test so far brimming with confidence.
“I think the way we played against Angola was very impressive,” he said after the victory. “We were able to contain them. We closed them down. Believe me, to play a team in front of such a noisy crowd is not easy, you need to concentrate for 90 minutes and that is what we did."
Inkoom was part of the side that won the U-20 World Cup in Egypt last year, and there is a similarity to the team’s runs through the event, but are they ready to win it? “We are ready to play,” said the FC Basel player. “We have no say as to who will be our opponents, but now we believe we can face and beat any team. We now believe that we can do it. We can win this competition.”