Few will have forgotten the images of joy and elation after Ghana became the first and to date only African nation to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but the broad grins of four years ago have tightened into grimly tense expressions now.
Two-thirds of the way through the group stage at the 2013 edition in Turkey, the Black Satellites camp is pervaded by a sense of dismay. Only one man seems to have set his broad shoulders against adversity and kept his head high: Yiadom Boakye.
“We're feeling down. It's disappointing for a team like Ghana to lose the first two matches," the striker told FIFA.com, adopting a refreshingly open and honest tone. “But each and every player is utterly determined to achieve something for our country. Provided we win our final group match, we still have a chance of going through." In other words, there is a huge amount at stake when the Ghanaians face USA in Kayseri on Thursday.
There is a real aura to Boakye, emanating from his composed determination and reinforced by his athletic 1.86 m physique. He is fully aware of his special role near the top of the dressing room hierarchy in the team coached by Sellas Tetteh. The ruthless finisher, who is on the books at Juventus but spent last season on loan to Sassuolo and contributed 11 goals as the club won promotion to Italy's Serie A for the first time, picks his words carefully but with unmistakable intent.
We just have to work even harder. If you want to make it to the top, you have to give more than 100 per cent.
“I'm telling the lads we mustn't let our heads go down," he continued. “We have everything we need to be successful. The senior players now have to give a lead to the younger ones, and make sure we're mentally up for it." It will be no easy task, as the young Ghanaians have in fact played very good football at times in Turkey, but with no discernible reward. Both in the 3-1 defeat to France and a reverse to Spain by the only goal of the game, the Africans piled pressure on their opponents for a full half of each match.
However, in both cases, the Black Satellites came away empty-handed because of one unnecessary error too many at critical moments. And at the global level, the details make the difference. “It's basically very easy," declared Boakye. “We just have to work even harder. If you want to make it to the top, you have to give more than 100 per cent." That was an essential ingredient in the 2009 success in Egypt, where Tetteh's men ultimately hoisted the trophy into the Cairo night sky.
Boakye, scorer of his side’s solitary goal in Turkey so far, regards the previous generation captained by Andre Ayew as role models. “They’re our inspiration. We have huge respect for what they achieved. Their triumph was historic, and we've basically come here to repeat it," said the 20-year-old. “It's not too late yet and we still believe in ourselves."
But what are the grounds for his optimism? “As soon as we're out there against the USA, we have to forget everything going on around us. We have to focus our minds and work hard as a unit. And if we manage that, we'll win the game." His eyes shine and his face takes on a look of grim determination as he warns the world in general against prematurely writing off the Black Satellites, regarded as a good outside bet for tournament glory beforehand.