On the night of Friday 2 July, Milovan Rajevac suffered what he described as ‘the most painful experience of my football career.’ The side which he coached, Ghana, were knocked out of the FIFA World Cup, after losing 4-2 to Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out. Despite the obvious disappointment, the Serbian and his young side emerged from that tournament with a great deal of credit.
Rajevac is involved in negotiations over his contract, he has once again assured the Ghanaian population of his loyalty and commitment in continuing in the role. “The recent World Cup showed the rest of the world that Africa is actually a good place to be, I think it changed a lot of stereotypes in Europe,” he told FIFA.com. “Now people, I’m sure, say ‘I wouldn’t mind working there.’
“I have started negotiations with the national association already and I’m positive that soon, we will come to an agreement. I have indicated to them that I want to stay; I want to continue with this job, now we have to agree on the way forward. I have been enjoying this challenge; it has been a great experience for me. I can say that it is looking very good, in few weeks time, I’m sure we will have sorted everything out.”
If that proves to be the case, then Rajevac’s first task would be to take Ghana to the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon/ Equatorial Guinea. Drawn in qualifying Group I alongside Congo, Sudan and Swaziland, they play their first game on Sunday 5 September at the Somholo National Stadium in Lombamba as they take on the Sihlangu Semnikati [King’s Shield] of Swaziland.
“We have important matches to play in the qualifiers, we need to do well there and build a good foundation,” he continued. “We need to concentrate and collect maximum points throughout the campaign. Of course sometimes that is not possible, but that should be the attitude of any team that has ambitions. We know that we have to work harder and we will face quality teams. The Africa Cup of Nations is our main priority now. Once that goal has been achieved, then we will shift our focus towards something else, like the 2014World Cup.”
Rajevac led Ghana to the final of the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Luanda earlier this year only for a youthful line-up to fall at the final hurdle by a single goal to Egypt. The 54-year-old gambled by selecting an inexperienced side for Angola 2010, but it was a throw of the dice which turned into a masterstroke. “The youth policy is very important for this team,” commented Rajevac. ”We don’t just talk about it, we put it into practice. But again, it is still important for us to bring in the experienced players.”
The return of inspirational captain Michael Essien from injury has been a shot in the arm for Black Starts. The Chelsea midfielder missed South Africa 2010 due to injury, and although returning to action for the Londoners, Rajevac elected not to select Essien for Ghana’s friendly against South Africa as he wanted him to get game time at club level following his injury. “Michael is still an important component of this side, he is a special player,” said Rajevac. “Essien brings a special dimension to this team. We are looking forward in having him back with us.”
While some African teams at the FIFA World Cup were affected by internal disagreements, harmony within the Black Stars camp has been a constant. Among the playing group, the coach has gained respect for his firm, yet affable approach.
Ghana striker, Asamoah Gyan said: “The coach has done a great job with this team. I think we are lucky to have someone like him, he is an easy-going person. But when it times to work, he wants everyone to be serious, he expects us to do our best. I’m not going to get involved in discussions about his future. That is between him and the association. But I know that most of the guys here wouldn’t mind having him around for a while. If you look at the most successful countries, they have based their decisions on continuity.”