Teams always need a few players who are endowed with technical brilliance and the ability to turn a match on its head with a single stroke of genius. That said, every coach would say it is equally important to have players who are prepared to run through a brick wall for their team-mates. Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac is certainly blessed with players who fall into the latter category.
Take John Pantsil, for example. Just a week ago, the Fulham stopper departed on a stretcher in stoppage time at the end of the 1-1 draw with Australia, blood pouring from his lip. Four days later he was back, patched up and raring to go as the Black Stars went down narrowly 1-0 to Germany.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA, Ghana's central defender looked ahead to the impending Round of 16 tie with USA, spoke of his friendship with American forward Clint Dempsey, and reflected on the match between the two countries four years ago at Germany 2006.
How do you feel going into the knockout stages?
First of all, I'm just happy that we've got through the first round again, four years after we did it in Germany. We deserved to qualify after the team played magnificently in our first three matches. Youngsters and veterans alike all did what was expected of them. I'm absolutely thrilled for my team-mates.
What can you tell us about the USA team?
They are a very solid side that keep running for 90 minutes and more. They won't stop fighting until the final whistle. We know how they like to play and we know how we can cause them trouble. Now we're in the knockout stages and we'll give it everything to get through to the next round.
What memories do you have of the match in Germany?
It was the match that took us into the Round of 16. The USA were above us in the FIFA ranking, but we still managed to beat them 2-1. It was a great feeling. I remember that at the end of the game we stayed on the field for several minutes, waiting for the result of the other match in the group. When we finally heard that we had gone through, we all went mad.
Do you think the Americans will be out for revenge?
I'm sure that the game from four years ago will still be in their minds, but we've played our hearts out to get into the top 16 teams in the world, and we're not going to give up now. We're ready for anything.
How would you describe your American team-mate from Fulham, Clint Dempsey?
He's a real fighter. I call him 'the lion' because he never gives up. Even if he's hurt or covered in blood, he's determined to stay on the field. Actually, I'm a bit like him. It will be a terrific battle between the two of us.
Has he ever kicked you in training?
Absolutely, but when he kicks me, I make sure I kick him back. And that's when he starts moaning. He likes to dish it out, but he doesn't like to take it. Seriously, I love him, he's a great guy as well as being a fantastic player with loads of experience. I'm well aware that we'll have to keep a close eye on him all the time to stop him scoring.
How would you sum up Clint Dempsey?
He’s a good mate, a good friend. He's a real leader on the pitch at Fulham, and I'm sure he is in the national team too. All in all, he's a great guy and a great player.
Going back to the game, would you agree that the Ghana defence has been excellent so far?
Let's just say that so far everything has gone well. We have been very disciplined and we aim to stay that way.
Could you perhaps do with more impetus in attack?
That depends on what our coach has planned. I don't know yet what tactics he has in mind to take on the Americans. Each of us has to listen to his instructions and do what he tells us. If he wants us to attack more, that's what we'll do. It's all up to the coach.
What gives you such remarkable defensive strength?
It's simply a matter of discipline. Everyone does their utmost to stop our opponents gaining possession in between our midfield and defence.
Do you feel extra pressure going into the knockout rounds?
It's inevitable, but when you're a professional you learn to live with it. What you do is put the pressure to one side and relax. If you can do that, the results come by themselves. As one of the more experienced players, I've been talking to the youngsters, telling them that we can't afford to lose control, even if we know that should we lose, we're going home.
You're known for walking around at the end of matches with a Ghanaian flag. Is that a superstition?
I always feel I'm representing my country and the flag is my way of showing to the whole world where Ghana is and what the country is capable of. Our fans always give us their unconditional support, and this is my way of saying thank you.