Andre Ayew palm-slapped his own chest in an uninhibited exhibition of euphoria. He had just cancelled out Clint Dempsey’s first-minute opener for USA. Only eight minutes remained. He had seemingly snatched Ghana a valuable point in Natal.
At the final whistle at the Estadio das Dunas, however, Ayew slunk to the turf, head in hands. A giant Berlin-born defender had ruined the France-born playmaker’s evening.
Ghana now have it all to do in their quest to escape an examining Group G. Germany are next for Kwesi Appiah’s Balck Stars. Then come Portugal.
FIFA caught up with the 24-year-old Marseille man to discuss the defeat to USA, whether Ghana play as individuals rather than as a team, their success of 2010 creating additional expectations and the clash with Germany.
FIFA: You’ve had a little while to reflect on the USA defeat. What are your thoughts?
Andre Ayew: I think we had a good game. We had the possession of the ball, we managed to create chances, but I think we were not efficient enough. We lacked definition and touch in the offensive part and the defensive part too. If we move the first five minutes and the last five minutes it would be a perfect game. But football is 90 minutes and every minute is important, so we are disappointed because we know we lost versus a team where we could have and should have won. But it is part of football and I think we will learn from our mistakes. Now we are going to prepare for our next game versus Germany.
Do you think tactically there was anything you could have changed?
Every game is different. We knew we were going to have possession of the ball, and we had it and made good use of it. We simply could not end up scoring goals or defending the few chances the USA had. They played really compactly, they played as a team, and we had to go after a goal for the whole game. Because to concede a goal in 30 seconds, it is impossible for a team like us to take a goal in such a short time in such a competition. It is part of the game and you know we had to react. We did well even though we only scored in the 82nd minute. I think even if we didn't win, we at least should have drawn this game, but we were not allowed to lose this game. We need to not only look at the first five and last five minutes, but look at what we did together, the spirit that we showed and the willingness to do something. We need to continue like that. Even though we lost, we lost with our heads high and that is what is important.
You mentioned that the Americans were compact and they played as a team. Do you think Ghana played more as individuals and less as a team?
No, I think that we have the team spirit, the team tactical assignment. We do have it. We just lost concentration in the first few seconds and it was the same with their second goal. It is not something you can make a big case about it. We showed the USA that we are compact, we have the creativity, we have the skill, we have the power but we also have the team spirit. That is why we know that we are a good team. But we need to prove that on the pitch. Not at training and not outside the pitch. We are in a difficult group, in the group of death, but we believe in ourselves and we will try to do something against Germany.
Do you feel that the expectation at the start of the tournament was a little too high just because of 2010, where you exceeded expectations to get to the quarter-finals?
Honestly, no. We had a good game and unfortunately we lost. Football is all about winning, you can't have the best game ever if you don't win. It's true especially in a tournament. When it is a league you have time to catch up, but when it is a tournament like this it is difficult. You can maybe have one game where you slip-up, but you can’t have two.
Ghana have the youngest squad at the tournament. Does that work against you?
No, most of the players are not at their first World Cup. For most of us it is the second for some it is their third. Yes, it is true that there are young players on the team and in such tournaments you need a lot of experience, but you know I think that football and experience is not only about age. It is about how long you have been playing for. If someone started playing when they are 17 and now maybe he is 20 or 23, he has already played for years. My generation – [Emmanuel] Badu, [Samuel] Inkoom, [Dainel] Opare, all of them – we have been playing with the Black Stars for a while now. We had a lot of glory very young. But you have to give yourself new objectives to try to fight to win trophies, because even though we did a lot of good stuff in the past we haven't won the Nations Cup or the World Cup. We need to work hard to win a trophy and I believe that this squad can do it.
Can Ghana get something from the Germany game?
They won the first game convincingly. There was a red card early in the game, but to play versus Portugal is not easy and to win with that kind of margin means that Germany are ready. Germany have a big squad. I think it’s good enough for them to reach the Final. They’re one of the best [sides] in the world. But I believe in ourselves, I believe in the squad. There have been a lot of surprises in this tournament. I don't mean we're going to surprise Germany – maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: we’re going to give everything we have to finish the game with a positive result.
You mention the ‘group of death’. Getting out of such a tough pool would give you big confidence heading into the knockout phase…
If we pass this group I believe we can go very far. It all depends on us. We should have won the first game. We didn't, we put ourselves in this situation. Now we have to do everything to come out of this situation – it's as simple as that. If we don't go through then it means that we didn't deserve to go through. We need to be honest with ourselves, but I believe that we've trained hard enough. We don’t want to go home early, we want to stay here as long as possible, so we're going to do everything to stay. But if have to go home, we'll go with our heads high and with no regrets.