Stevanovic: Ghana will be champions
© AFP

Nothing less than victory in the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations final next month will do for hard-to-please Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic.

The 45-year-old Serbian coach travels to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this week for the continental tournament with a squad considered joint favourites beside Côte d'Ivoire. Ghana launch a three-match Group D campaign next Monday against surprise qualifiers Botswana followed at four-day intervals by meetings with Mali and Guinea.

It is a group the Black Stars are favoured to win and move within three victories of a title they last held 30 years ago when pipping hosts Libya in a penalty shoot-out. "We were runners-up at the last Cup of Nations in Angola two years ago and a repeat of what has already been achieved is not good enough," said Stefanovic.

"My players and I are motivated. All of us have spoken a lot about this African tournament and we agree Ghana are going to be champions. We are under pressure, but that is normal in football. The record of Ghana in the Cup of Nations means they will always be among the favourites and we accept that playing in the final is the least our supporters expect from us."

Stevanovic played as a midfielder at home and in Spain, Portugal and Greece and coached leading Belgrade outfit Partizan before succeeding compatriot Milovan Rajevac after Ghana reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals in South Africa.

My players and I are motivated. All of us have spoken a lot about this African tournament and we agree Ghana are going to be champions.  
Goran Stevanovic, Ghana coach

A few months prior to that, Rajevac had taken a team severely depleted by injuries to the Africa Cup of Nations final in Angola where they held defending champions Egypt for 85 minutes before conceding the only goal of the game.

Many of those Africa Cup of Nations and FIFA World Cup squad members have travelled to central Africa this week, including centre-back John Mensah, midfielders Andre Ayew and Sulley Muntari and fit-again striker Asamoah Gyan.

The sight of Gyan scoring in a warm-up win over South African Premiership club Platinum Stars will have cheered Stevanovic as the United Arab Emirates-based star had been doubtful for the tournament because of a hamstring injury.

"In my humble opinion, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal should reach the last four and one of them will probably play in the final. Mali are also a team to watch out for," said the Ghana coach.

The four-time African champions have never played Botswana or Mali in the Cup of Nations, but boast an impressive record of three victories and a draw against the Guineans.