Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac will put friendship and blood ties aside for 90 minutes tomorrow as he faces his countrymen Serbia in their FIFA World Cup™ opener in Pretoria. The Cajetina-born 56-year-old played for and managed a number of clubs in his native country down the years, including Red Star Belgrade, while as a defender he also represented Yugoslavia.
He is also friends with veteran coach Radomir Antic, the man he will pit his wits against tomorrow when Ghana face Serbia at the Loftus Versfeld stadium. Regardless of all that though, Rajevac insists there will be no split loyalties for him against Serbia as he seeks to help Ghana enjoy a winning start to what will be their second appearance at the World Cup finals.
He said: "For the first match of the World Cup my role is unusual because we will be playing against my country and I'm the coach of Ghana. This is a very difficult situation for me but I'm a professional and I will concentrate on the game," added Rajevac, who took charge of Ghana in 2008 after succeeding Frenchman Claude Le Roy. "We all know everything about each other, so we'll see (what happens) tomorrow."
Rajevac is the second Serbian coach to face his birth nation and he will be hoping to do better than the first -- Blagoje Vidinic, whose Zaire side were thumped 9-0 by Yugoslavia back in 1974. If the Black Stars are to enjoy a winning start to the South Africa 2010 though, then Rajevac will need to put one over 61-year-old Antic, a coach who has managed the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid during a lengthy managerial career.
Rajevac explained: "Radomir Antic is a very experienced coach, he worked for Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, he won two cups with Atletico. He's also my friend and of course this will remain after the game, but during the game we will try to do the best for our teams. I've been living with my team for two years, we've reached the World Cup and we will try to do our best here."
Regarding his expectations for their opening fixture, Rajevac said: "You never know with the first game. We are the youngest team, so for sure this will be a very interesting game. It all comes down to who will impose their game on the other side, whoever does that will win."
Whereas earlier this evening Antic revealed he has all 23 of his squad fit and eager to go for tomorrow's match, Rajevac has had to cope with more than one injury problem in the build-up to the tournament. The big one was the loss of star player Michael Essien, with the Chelsea midfielder being ruled out for the competition due to the knee and ankle injuries which saw him miss the most of the Barclays Premier League season.
"Mike is not here, what can we do? It's a shame he's not with us, we would definitely have been much stronger," said Rajevac, who hopes German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng of Portsmouth can help fill the gap. "Mike is not with us and that's truly a great handicap for us, and for the World Cup as well. Kevin came in as a new player. There are also other injured players who have returned," he said. "He [Boateng] has integrated very well, he's a great reinforcement for us, and he might be one of the most intriguing players at this World Cup."
Also struggling for fitness recently was another of Ghana's key midfielders, Sulley Muntari. Rajevac said of the Inter Milan player, who has been battling a thigh problem: "Muntari has been injured for a while but lately he has recovered, and the last three training sessions he's performed well. He's very important for our team and we will use him and when he will be ready to play."
Meanwhile, captain Stephen Appiah has not played much first-team football with Bologna over the last few years but he also feels he is ready for action, saying: "I played a lot of a practice games, honestly I feel that on a fitness level I'm coming up. I know that I'm fit and ready to play. And any chance the coach gives me, five minutes, two minutes, I'm ready."