After fine displays against Italy and Paraguay, a draw in the final group match against Japan would have seen Ghana through to the last eight at the Olympic Football Tournament; but the Asian outfit registered their first victory of the showcase event to send the African hopefuls crashing out of the Games. Back at the team hotel afterwards, FIFA.com caught up with dismayed Ghana coach Mariano Barreto, who fought back his disappointment to offer a detailed analysis.
"That's football," the Portuguese coach reacted, "naturally, we're down and disappointed. We weren't clever enough to score today against tough opponents. We created one or two decent chances in the second half but overall it wasn't enough, partly because Japan were always dangerous on the break. I would never accuse my players of not giving it a go, we didn't go into the match looking for a draw as that's doomed to failure anyway. We had six strikers on the field by the end, we tried everything we knew but it wasn't enough," Barreto summarised.
The coach reckoned he could explain why his team proved unable to exploit their excellent going-in position. "It's always tough when there's nothing at stake for your opponents, the pressure's off and they can open up," he reasoned, although he insisted he was proud of his youthful squad. "I'd like to thank my players, they gave everything they could and they've had a good tournament. I reckon everyone in Ghana should be proud of this team. We've shown we can compete with the top nations such as Paraguay and Italy, but you've got to make allowances for my players being so young, you'll always get mistakes. Take our goalkeeper for example, he made one fatal error today, and when you concede a goal like that it's a big slap in the face, it hit us very hard indeed. You don't let in a goal like that every day. But people will quickly forget his two superb saves in the second half and he was outstanding in our previous games, and in qualifying too," Barreto said in defence of distraught keeper George Owu.
Highly-rated playmaker Stephen Appiah never came close to his match-winning form of the first two games, but the coach found words of praise for the talented Juventus youngster. "He's still young, but he's already the driving force in the team. He was outstanding in the first two matches, and even today his head never went down and he kept on fighting even when things weren't working out."
The Portuguese boss is still agonising over his side's failure to beat Italy. "On reflection, I'm obviously angry that we tossed away a 2-0 lead against Italy, you have to say that's partly down to lack of experience. But we didn't get the best of the refereeing decisions either, although that's all I've got to say on the matter, I'm not a bad loser. It's our own fault we didn't win, although you have to say referees do make mistakes, just as we don't always get it right. That's how it is in football. And other fancied teams such as Portugal and Greece have been knocked out too."
Barreto was full of praise for the organisation at the Games and the Greek people. "I'd like to put on record my thanks for the warm and friendly welcome we've been given here," he stated.
Setting aside his disappointment, the coach looked to the future with optimism. "I don't think we need worry about the future of the game in Ghana. This team includes maybe six or seven exceptional youngsters, playing in the best European leagues. Tomorrow's a new day and we'll focus on the future now. We'll take a little time off, but then we're back on the World Cup qualifying trail," he declared.
Barreto offered best wishes to Italy and Paraguay as they progress to the quarter-finals at Ghana and Japan's expense. "I hope these two teams go a long way, that would be more proof of our ability to compete with this kind of team at the highest level."