They say that the pressure of being among the favourites makes the task of winning a tournament all the harder. If that is indeed the case, then both Spain and Ghana fully deserve their places in the semi-finals at the FIFA World Cup Korea 2007. All that remains to be decided when the duo meet at the Ulsan Complex Stadium on Wednesday is who will have the honour of contesting Sunday's Final and who will have the consolation of battling for third place.
The Iberians had to dig very deep to shake off France in the quarter-finals. The boys in blue dominated for long periods by adopting a simple tactic - keeping the ball. And it was only when coach Juan Santisteban switched things around in the second half that Spain got into the game and showed their teeth up front, something they will certainly need to do against the Ghanaians. The major doubt surrounding the Spanish is how they will react after expending so much energy in last Saturday's gruelling duel with the French.
The Black Starlets should be much in fresher condition after comfortably disposing of Peru. Sellas Tetteh's side have also improved since the tournament began and appear to be peaking at just the right time. Much will depend on how Ghana's potent strike duo of Ransford Osei (five goals to date) and Sadick Adams fare against the solid Spanish defence, marshalled by in-form keeper David de Gea.
Neither Ghana nor Spain have any suspension problems. Ghana boss Tetteh has a full squad to choose from after Francis Boadi served out his one-match in the quarters, while opposite number Santisteban is still waiting on midfielder Jordi's ankle injury and defender Alberto Morgado's muscle strain.
Ghana and Spain have already met four times at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, including twice in 1991 when they tied 0-0 in the first round before meeting up again in the Final, Ghana clinching the trophy 1-0. The African side also claimed a 2-1 victory in the semi-final of the 1997 tournament, while the other match was a 1-1 draw in 1999.
This will be the second time in the history of the FIFA U-17
World Cup that both semi-finals pit an African side against a
European side. The first time was back in 1987 with the following
pairings: Italy-Nigeria (0-1) and USSR-Côte d'Ivoire (5-1).
Ghana have scored seven of their 11 goals at this year's tournament between the 44th and the 53rd minute.
"The main challenge facing us will be physical, as Ghana are a very tough side and they have not had to work as hard as we have. We also need to be intelligent. When we've got the ball we need to move it around and try to frustrate them, and when they have it we need to be on our guard and try and hit them on the counter." Juan Santisteban, Spain coach.
"Possession is vital to us because we struggle when we don't have the ball. It's going to be very hard because Ghana aren't like other African sides who are physically very strong but lack a little technique. They've got both things." Jordi, Spain midfielder.
"Our finishing needs to be a little sharper because we can't afford to miss any chances that come our way against the Spanish. It could cost us dear if we do. All the same, I'm convinced we can play good football against anyone, even against a team as strong as Spain." Sellas Tetteh, Ghana coach.
"We know we've got what it takes to reach the final. Spain are a good side but we are determined to beat them and go for the title. Although we are playing really well, there is always room for improvement, and we hope to step up another level against the Spanish." Ransford Osei, Ghana forward.