Ghana is poised to become the first African team to reach the FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals, thanks in part to a Serbian coach whose discipline has the Black Stars shining bright. Africa's last hope among the six teams that began the event, stunned the USA 2-1 in extra-time on Saturday to book a quarter-final match-up against two-time winners Uruguay next Friday.
They become only the third African team to appear in a the last eight, following in the footsteps of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. "Ghana is now among the eight best teams in the world. This is fantastic," Milovan Rajevac said. "The most important thing is to know how to compete so Ghana will manage to go further. There's a lot at stake. We will try to play well."
Rajevac has made a believer of US coach Bob Bradley, who gives Ghana a fair chance to topple Uruguay and put an African team in the final four in the first FIFA World Cup on African soil. "Ghana is a talented team," said Bradley. "Milovan Rajevac has done a good job organising the team. They will have a tough game against Uruguay but they are a team that's capable of moving on."
With Chelsea star midfielder Michael Essien sidelined by a knee injury and limited roles for veterans Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, the Black Stars have relied upon Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan for attack pressure. But Portsmouth playmaker Boateng is doubtful due to an injury and both Ayew and defender Johnathan Mensah will miss the match against Uruguay after taking their second yellow cards of the tournament against the Americans.
"It's going to be a huge problem to get him ready for the next game but we will do our utmost to get him ready," Rajevac said of Boateng. "This is the major problem we're facing against Uruguay, the cards and the injuries."
Some of the credit for Ghana's improvement after a run to the last 16 in 2006 belongs to Rajevac. "He has done a lot for Ghana," Ayew said. "We have done better than four years ago, which is important for us. Tactically we are sound. Technically also."
Rajevac, appointed in 2008 without major club or international experience, is a former defender for Yugoslavia who played in the 1979 UEFA Cup final with Red Star Belgrade with coaching stops in China, Qatar, Sweden and Germany. "I had great success in Serbia," he said. "I was going from one success to another and now I have a new opportunity."
Rajevac, the 10th Ghana coach in the past six years, took tiny clubs Vojvodina and Borac into the UEFA Cup. His focus is upon his players and their determination in tough times such as the extra time against the hard-pressing Americans. "My players had the force and the strength to continue and go to the end and win," he said. "Both teams deserved to win but only one team could. In the extra time we needed the strength and we had the strength."