Spirits were high after Ghana became the first of Africa's four representatives at the FIFA U-20 World Cup to book their place in the knockout stages.
Drawn into a challenging-looking Group B, the 2009 champions made it through with only an opening-game draw against Austria blemishing their record, having secured passage with a 1-0 win over Panama. The fact that pre-tournament favourites Argentina exited without a win to their name shows that the section was no formality for the West Africans.
Their 3-2 triumph over the Humberto Grondona's side, where they raced into a three-goal lead, remains the benchmark of their tournament so far for coach Sellas Tetteh. He was in buoyant mood as he led is team out of North Harbour Stadium and towards a second round tie in Wellington, though the former Black Stars caretaker boss admits they were somewhat shy of the same level of performance against the Central Americans.
“We didn't perform as well as we did against Argentina,” he told FIFA.com, “but we were still on top and we showed flashes of good play, so I think we deservedly made it into the next round. It's good [we managed to finish top] as the group was tough. It has seen three draws played and we ended up with seven points, so that clearly shows our capabilities. We'll represent the group very well.”
Ahead of group finale all four sides could have booked a place in the next round and Ghana's final game was an even encounter in Auckland. It was settled by a superb solo goal from Emmanuel Boateng, who pounced on a defensive error eight minutes from time, but great feet and a cool finish secured back-to-back wins. Panama rattled the underside of the bar and missed a penalty before the final whistle though, and Tetteh expects things only to get more difficult as they go on.
“We know as a tournament progresses it becomes tougher,” he the talkative coach explained, while clearly delighted by how events have panned out thus far. “We have prepared the boys to expect the challenges of the next stage, but I think we are capable of moving forward. We are very, very capable. We are going to work seriously towards that and we will see how it goes.”
One dark cloud ruining his sunny disposition was an injury to star midfielder and captain Clifford Aboagye, who was the tournament's third-best player as he helped the Black Satellites to a bronze medal at Turkey 2013 under Tetteh's tutelage. The coach was optimistic about his skipper's chance, but admitted only time will tell.
“He has a groin injury but we will see the gravity of it,” he said, having had to bring his side's key schemer off after the break. “We cannot say now as these are young kids who recover very fast, but all the same we have players who can fill in the gap.”
They await a meeting with the third-place side from one of groups A, C or D and Tetteh, who has the pedigree of having reached the quarter-finals at every visit to the U-20 World Cup, will be keen to not buck that trend at New Zealand 2015.