Despite making just half-a-dozen appearances for the Black Stars, Dominic Adiyiah is considered by most Ghanaians as the long-term solution to their problematic striker position. In the short term, with the FIFA World Cup just 24 hours away, the explosive 20-year-old is hoping to play an immediate role of understudy and even go on to star for coach Milovan Rajevac.
Although the sometimes inconsistent Asamoah Gyan seems certain to be Rajevac's first choice up front, the Serbian coach made it clear just before the finals that he would not be afraid to blood his young players in the pressure cooker environment that awaits in South Africa. And the reigning CAF Young African Player of the Year is anxious to bring his extraordinary talents to bear in a demanding section that pits Ghana against Germany, Serbia and Australia.
While Adiyiah knows a place in the starting XI is just out of reach at this point, he is keeping prepared for any development. "You have to be ready for everything," he told FIFA at Ghana's training camp north of Johannesburg. "You can come off the bench and give your best for the team to win, and you can also start too. You always have to be open-minded. Any time you get the chance you just deliver."
Delivering at a world finals is something that the youngster knows a lot about. His performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt last year was nothing short of exceptional as the Black Satellites became the first African country to lift that prestigious trophy. He was the central figure for Ghana and the entire tournament, finishing with both the Golden Shoe and Golden Ball awards as the competition's top scorer and best player.
If his eight goals in seven matches - three better than any other player at Egypt 2009 - left any questions about his lethal instincts, one need only look at the penalty kick that he converted to keep Ghana in the shootout at the end of the final match against Brazil. With his team down 3-2, Adiyiah knew that, if he missed, the Satellites would come up short in the deciding match for the third time in the history of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. As it was, the diminutive, quick-footed striker made no mistake and Brazil failed to convert their next three kicks to send the title to Africa.
Having followed in the illustrious footsteps of U-20 heroes past, Adiyiah grasped his moment with both hands and kept a remarkable sense of ambition for a player who had just experienced what he called the best moment of his career. “I'm not going to rest on it, I'm not going to sleep beside the medals or the awards,” he said after the final. “This is a challenge for me, so I have to work hard. I'm following in the footsteps of the likes of [U-20 standouts Lionel] Messi, [Javier] Saviola and [Sergio] Aguero, and I want to emulate their careers - and I'll work hard to do that. I'm preparing to get to the top.”
So it was the Accra native’s performance but also his mentality that impressed onlookers and had clubs like Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan fighting for the right to prise him away from Norwegian side Fredrikstad. And when I Rossoneri brought him to Milan at the start of this January's transfer window - as a “signing for the future,” according to coach Leonardo - it marked a meteoric rise that had only seen him move to Norway in 2008 from small Kpandu-based club Heart of Lions.
Adiyiah also earned his first call-up to the senior Black Stars at the end of last year, making his debut in a November friendly against Angola. He impressed almost immediately, earning a place in January’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations squad. Asamoah Gyan’s rich goalscoring form at the time kept him resigned to the bench except for two substitute’s appearances, but as always, his pace, touch and confidence shone through. Whether he gets the chance to unseat Gyan or is used as a second-half spark, the youngster seems set to continue going from strength to strength.
“I want to play at the highest level and become one of the best in the world,” he told FIFA.com. “Over the years, I've had the chance to watch some great players and I've been happy for them, I just want to be one of them too.”