More than a month has elapsed since Ghana narrowly missed taking the African crown, suffering a 1-0 defeat against Egypt in the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. With that disappointment behind them, Ghana have now turned their focus to their next assignment; the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
Milovan Rajevac, the man charged with moulding Ghana into a strong and potent unit, says that the next few months will be used wisely as the Black Stars look to win their way out of the group and beyond. There is still much work to be done if they are to transform their dream into a reality, starting with their Group D opener against Serbia in Tshwane/Pretoria on 13 June before further matches against Australia and Germany.
There has been much change regarding the teams approach to matches since Rajevac assumed the reins 18 months ago. Sometimes criticised for not playing in the carefree manner that is often associated with west African football, Rajevac is not a man swayed by emotion, preferring a more pragmatic approach. FIFA.com had a heart-to-heart chat with the 56-year-old as the countdown to South Africa 2010 continues.
FIFA.com: You lost to Egypt in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, which must have been a bitter pill to swallow. What lessons did you draw from the competition?
Milovan Rajevac: Considering what we had to deal with before the tournament, we can consider our experiences a success. Of course we would have loved to win, but unfortunately Egypt won it. I think the players played very well throughout the event, maybe with the exception of our (group) game against Cote d’Ivoire. Before the tournament, we lost key players to injury and I was forced to think very hard on our strategy. There were many valuable lessons for us. I think it is important for the team to carry the momentum forward.
There has been some media comment suggesting that Ghana did not play good football in Angola. What is your view on that?
Good football? I believe in winning football, in tournaments you have to get results, that is what is important for me and the rest of the team. What is the point of playing around with the ball in your own half if you are not scoring goals. We had to decide on what we wanted to do; whether we wanted to be entertainers or win our matches. So, I don’t think we were boring, maybe we were not as exciting as some people wanted us to be, but I wouldn’t say that we were boring at all.
Do you believe the likes of Samuel Inkoom, Dede Ayew, Anthony Annan have now come of age at international level?
Yes, those players have done very well. Not only the three that you have mentioned, but there are also some outstanding guys who have put their hands up and done well whenever given an opportunity. Players like Abadu and Opuku Agyemang. Most of these boys did a great job at the U-20 World Cup and it was only fair to give them a chance at senior level, most especially considering the fact that we had to deal with injuries before the tournament. I think now Ghana has a good list of young and old players.
Just how important are players like Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and John Mensah for your FIFA World Cup preparations?
You are now talking about experience, and that is valuable for us. Those players are part of our plans, they are key to our ambitions. Yes, some might say the youngsters did well in Angola, but the reality is, at the World Cup, you need a lot of experience, you need guys who are going to be able to deal with the pressure. We need to mix youth and experience and find the right balance. By that, I mean we must continue using the youngsters but they need guidance, they need people around them who will be able to deal with pressure and that is where players like Essien, Mensah and Appiah come in.
There has been a lot of speculation about Inter Milan forward Mario Balotelli. In your view, could he yet play for Ghana and what will be his role be if he decides to play for the Black Stars?
Well, at the moment it’s up to the player whether he wants to play for Italy or Ghana. That is a decision that has to be taken by Balotelli. It’s no secret that I would love to have him on my side, he is an exciting youngster who can add a lot of value to this team. But in such issues, one has to be sensitive and not say much.
Sulley Muntari was omitted from the squad that went to Angola in January, reportedly for disciplinary reasons. Has that issue been resolved and can we expect to see Muntari in South Africa?
I flew to Milan for five days to meet Muntari and we are fine now and we have resolved our differences. I made it known how I felt and he also aired his views. He is a good player and Ghana needs him going forward. I think whatever happened is in the past and we have to move on now. He told me he wants to play for Ghana and that is important.
Do you feel any added pressure being an African side playing on African soil in a tournament of this magnitude?
First of all, playing in a World Cup is a huge honour for any player or country. And, a lot has been said about this World Cup being an African World Cup. For us, we don’t want to put ourselves under unnecessary pressure. The most important thing is to get results – first in the group stage then in the knockout stages.
How much do you know about the conditions in South Africa?
I have been to South Africa about five times now and I love it. It’s a beautiful country. My team knows what to expect in South Africa after having our pre-Africa Cup of Nations camp in Nelspruit. This was important for us because we also got an opportunity to get a feel for the country before the World Cup.