Samuel Inkoom's chances of playing for Ghana at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ now look as sure as the sunrise. Not only has he been a regular for the national team since he was a teenager, but his club career has revitalised at just the right time for him to be a part of the Black Stars' third finals appearance on the trot.
A vital cog in Ghana's much-heralded FIFA U-20 World Cup-winning side in 2009, the full-back also played for the Black Stars in their knockout matches at South Africa 2010 – both of which were extra time thrillers. A 2-1 win against USA in the Round of 16 gave way to the infamous penalty shoot-out loss in the quarter-finals against Uruguay in which a Luis Suarez handball denied the side Africa's first-ever berth in the World Cup semi-finals.
A right back who can also play on the left or in midfield and is known for his marauding runs forward, Inkoom explained Ghana's ambitions for the tournament to FIFA.com this way: "We know we are not the best team at the tournament, but we are obsessed by going a step further than we did in South Africa. We are realistic about our target, which means we are cautious in measuring our optimism and want to keep working harder every step of the way to achieve our desire in Brazil."
However, the challenge of their draw into Group G with European heavyweights Germany and Portugal and old foes the United States is not lost on the 24-year-old. "Our group is a very tough one indeed. A look at the FIFA monthly ranking tells it all for Germany and Portugal who are in the top three. You cannot overlook the USA as well. They are all very good sides, we appreciate their quality and know it must take more than 100 per cent effort to get a result off each.”
Inkoom says it is important for the team to see their growth across the last three World Cups, which saw Ghana into the second round at Germany 2006, and then go one better four years later. One deep well the side can call on is the experience of a core group of veterans who have played at the highest levels of world football. “The team has a lot of quality with many senior players like Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan and others who play very important roles on and off the pitch. We have a fine blend of experience and young players, and we should be able to count on that to move us forward."
Inkoom says he is optimistic about sharing his own World Cup experiences with the team in Brazil, but until recently it seemed that his meteoric rise in football had stalled. Having played in the UEFA Champions League with Basel in the 2010/11 season, things quickly went south after a transfer to Ukraine's Dnipro, where Inkoom was mostly confined to the periphery. However, a loan move to Platanias in Greece earlier this year gave him the playing time he needed, and in fact he enjoyed a successful campaign helping the club stay in the Super League after their first-ever season in the top flight.
"I am the happiest person on earth today because my career is simply back on track. You cannot underestimate what I went through during the period I was sidelined at Dnipro,” he said. “I worked hard every moment on the pitch, at training and in everything. All I truly wanted to do was to play again because that is my job and, most importantly, my passion. God must have heard my cry.”
Inkoom regards the big next step as playing at the World Cup one more time. "It was such an honour to have played in the UEFA Champions League. It is such a big stage, but the World Cup is even a bigger stage because every player dreams of featuring at that level. Representing your country in the national colours is a feeling you probably cannot explain in a life time, and I will very much love to feel it over and over again in Brazil and in future tournaments."
Although Ghana was just a penalty kick away from becoming the first African team to feature in the semi-finals of a World Cup, Inkoom is quick to suggest that the continent will be capable of turning her fortunes around on the global stage.
"Africa must prove in Brazil that we do not qualify to make up the numbers because we have the talent and the big stars like Samuel Eto'o, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and others doing exceptional things.
"Our leagues are improving, our players are in some of the best leagues across the world and especially some very tough leagues in Europe, and that must be made to count, to make a case for the continent."