When it comes to eye-catching exploits on the global stage, few African sides can match Ghana's pioneering pedigree. Most famously of all, the Black Stars fell tantalisingly short of becoming the first nation from the continent to reach the FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals, when only a last-gasp penalty missed by Asamoah Gyan denied them a spot in the last four at South Africa 2010.
Andre Ayew sat out that quarter-final meeting with Uruguay through suspension, but he was very much involved a year earlier when Ghana made an even bigger splash at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. History was written at Egypt 2009 as the Black Satellites did not just win the prestigious competition but posted a landmark, breaking Europe and South America's long stranglehold on the tournament in its 17th edition.
Four years on from Ghana's triumph, and with the 19th edition due to kick-off on Friday, the captain of that groundbreaking side has forgotten none of the joy his team's victory sparked. "It's quite simply the greatest moment of my career," enthused Ayew, recalling his Egyptian adventure for FIFA.com. That is no hollow statement either, the 23-year-old Marseille midfielder – and son of Abedi Pele – having enjoyed plenty of highs, winning both the French League Cup and Trophees des Champions twice in addition to his role in Ghana's 2010 FIFA World Cup odyssey.
The impossible made possible
"It's a wonderful feeling to have gone down in history as the first African team to win the competition," said Ayew, his memories still fresh of Ghana's 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory against Brazil in the final, his side having held the then four-time winners 0-0 over 120 minutes. "What's more, we won against Brazil, when everyone thought we'd lost before the match had even started. For me personally, as the captain, to be the first African to lift the cup made me happy and proud."
Ayew could also be satisfied with his contribution on the pitch, hitting two goals and serving up three assists in seven games. On loan from Marseille at second-tier Arles-Avignon at the time, the left-footed forward then built on his FIFA U-20 World Cup experience to finish the 2009/10 season in style – although he missed out as OM were crowned French champions the same year.
"Honestly, I have no regrets," he explained. "Marseille were champions that year, but the 2009/10 season was the one that made my career. I was given playing time at Arles-Avignon and we got promoted to Ligue 1. I won the U-20 World Cup, appeared in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations and reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup. All that in one year."
'Strong nerves and mental strength'
Ayew certainly enjoyed his fair share of celebrations that term, even if he was unable to help OM end their 18-year wait for the Ligue 1 crown. "I missed the title, but you can't have everything – and what I experienced that year was still huge. If you told me I could win the French title or have that same season again, I'd choose the latter without hesitation."
That conviction ought to serve as inspiration for the current Black Satellites squad, who are gearing up to compete at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. Drawn alongside Spain, the USA and France in Group A, Sellas Tetteh's charges could do worse than to listen to Ayew if they hope to follow in the footsteps of their triumphant predecessors.
"First of all, I'd advise them to prepare well mentally, because it's a long and draining competition," explained the French-born player, recalling some of Ghana's most exacting tussles in 2009. Not only did his side require extra time to beat South Africa 2-1 in the last eight, they were pushed hard before registering 3-2 wins against quarter-final rivals Korea Republic and Hungary in the last four.
"You have to prepare yourself to go through difficult moments and you have to be prepared for tough times on the pitch, in games where strong nerves and mental strength will make the difference. You have to be ready to really battle, all in the knowledge that your efforts will perhaps be rewarded at the end of the competition."