After a few days of reflection on their historic second-round victory over USA, Ghana captain Stephen Appiah told FIFA that the Black Stars are staying themselves: relaxed and happy to be together. Having now gone further in the FIFA World Cup™ than ever before, and with a tricky match with Uruguay up next on Friday, the Bologna midfielder reflected on the values of what he calls "a special team".
"I am warmed by the players," said the 29-year-old from the team's camp outside of Rustenburg. "You can see that there is no tension, no pressure. Always with smiles, singing and laughing – stuff like that. What I've learnt is the more pressure you put on yourself, the more things go wrong. So, I have been telling the guys that they should be free [and that] nobody should even think about the games. Maybe a day or two before, then we have to focus on the game. But, for now, we're relaxed, training, laughing, singing, dancing. I think that's very important."
Handling the world's biggest football tournament in this way has been a consistent refrain from the Black Stars in South Africa. As they were four years ago on their finals debut, Ghana are the only African representatives in the knockout rounds, so they are obviously doing something right. And as anyone who has seen the joy and unity in their post-match celebrations can attest, togetherness is one of the team's hallmarks – not just in word but in spirit.
'I think you can see the atmosphere," he said. "You can see the way we talk to and the respect we have for each other. We practise together, we laugh together, we do everything together. In fact, you can't even see the difference with the lower-cut players and the professional players. I think that's the secret. It's the nice thing about this team."
Grounded but with an eye on history
One of the veterans of what is the youngest team in South Africa, Appiah has been around the block a few times. He started his career with Ghanaian giants Hearts of Oak before embarking on a 13-year career, mostly in Italy's Serie A with Udinese, Parma, Brescia and Juventus. Appiah, who also had a spell in Turkey with Fenerbahce, explained that the young Black Stars are naturally driven in a way many sides are not.
"This Black Stars team is strange," he said. "If you go to some of the teams, if you go to their camp after a big victory like [against the US], you'll see the players outside the lobby, drinking and going to bed late. But, in our camp, you won't even see the players outside. After a big win you'll see us in our room, maybe talking with our wives, with our girlfriends or friends. We will be playing cards or listening to music. I think it's a good thing because – as I always say – with big players, you don't see them out after a big victory. They always stay in and focus. I think it's a good sign. The moment you think everything is going well and you start getting a cocky head, then everything goes wrong."
But while admitting that the team are "really proud" of their achievement in becoming the third team to reach the last eight at the FIFA World Cup, matching Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002, they are excited rather than intimidated by the opportunity that now presents itself. "I think that history is always history," he said about reaching the last eight. "Now it's our turn. Now that we're there, it's history for Ghana. We hope that we can still better it by going to the semi-final. And, for myself, it would be a great achievement because one day I would like to talk to my kids and explain to them what happened in South Africa in 2010."