Ghana’s impressive recent FIFA World Cup™ exploits have created an aura of near-invincibility ahead of the Black Stars beginning their 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign this weekend.
Most, certainly, would expect Ghana’s next opponents, lowly-ranked Swaziland, not to be relishing an an opening Group I fixture against the continent's leading side in Mbabane this weekend. As is is, however, the mood in the Swazi camp has been upbeat ahead of this vital encounter.
Dennis Masina is probably one of the most well-known faces in the Swaziland line-up. Since leaving his native land to ply his trade in South Africa, the midfield maestro has become one of the key figures in the Isihlangu Semnikati (King’s Shield) line-up, having represented his country since 1999. According to the 28-year-old, the Swazis, while respectful of their opponents, are not going to be overwhelmed by the Black Stars' star-studded line-up.
"Of course Ghana is a big team in Africa and we respect them a lot,” Masina told FIFA.com. "They have some of the best players in Africa at the moment. I think it’s going to be an interesting match for us, but we are really motivated for this encounter. We have to be confident when playing them as they are a tough side with lots of skilful and talented players."
With some hard work and maybe a little bit of luck, we can achieve the impossible. We are not scared of anyone.
Ghana are ranked 23rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Swazis 111 places further back down at 134. It is this disparity that, on paper, would appear make the outcome of this match a foregone conclusion. However, the underdogs are hoping for a different script. The Swazis have been forced to regroup following the departure of their coach, Shakes Mashaba, who returned to South Africa to resume duties as the country’s U-23 coach.
The Isihlangu Semnikati , however, moved swiftly to replace Mashaba with Musa Zwane. And while the odds might be stacked against them, Masina said they are looking forward to a match in which they are unburdened by expectation. “It’s going to be a big mission, but we are happy to be underdogs for this match. We have a group of hungry players who know what this game means to us and our country,” Masina added.
As they continue their preparations in the quiet streets of Mhlume Country Club, the Swazi players are well aware that few will give them a chance of upsetting the Black Stars. But that is exactly what Masina is dreaming of. “Sure, we can cause an upset," he said. "In football, a lot can happen in 90 minutes. So, to be fair, I don’t think we can underestimate ourselves. With some hard work and maybe a little bit of luck, we can achieve the impossible. We are not scared of anyone, we respect all opponents equally."
For Masina, this will be a special occasion as he makes his return to international football, having endured his fair share of run-ins in the past. He is also eager to rewrite history for his national team, who are yet to make an appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations despite numerous attempts to qualify. Grouped with Ghana, Congo and Sudan, they face an uphill battle this time around to claim the solitary spot up for grabs in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea in 2012. But Masina and his team-mates are evidently unafraid of such challenges.