It might be the early stages of the group phase of the African qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, but Ghana are already into the thick of battle as they prepare to face newly crowned African champions Zambia in Ndola in their Group D game on Saturday.
After a rollicking start for the Black Stars last weekend, when they thumped Lesotho 7-0, they now turn their attention to a test of as completely different nature against the winners of the recent CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The Chipolopolo, who suffered a 2-0 defeat in Sudan last Saturday, open their new stadium on the Copperbelt and will feel a major burden of expectation in their first match on home soil since lifting the top prize on the continent in February.
New Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah says it will be a stiff match for his charges, even after storming out of the starting blocks in such efficient fashion. “Zambia are the African champions, and they are playing on their home ground, so it’s stands to reason it will not be easy. We have prepared well, we are in good spirits but we know that Zambia are deserved of their title as African champions and that they have very good players. We will have to play as well as we can if we are to achieve what we want to do – and that is to get a win.”
Appiah, who took over from Serbian Goran Stevanovic in April after the disappointment of the Black Stars’ fourth place finish at the Nations Cup, says last Friday’s win over Lesotho in Kumasi was an encouraging beginning on the road to Brazil. “I didn’t worry too much about the score but more about how the boys performed, how they kept their discipline both on and off the field and their willingness to die for the nation. It’s always important to get a good win at the start of the qualifiers.”
Appiah admits it might have been better to have had a tougher opponent to start off the group phase with but says there will be plenty of time for some testing battles in what could turn out to be a closely fought Group D. “The other team is Sudan and they showed by beating Zambia, they are also a good team. The key for them is that they have been together for a very long time and so we are in a group where every game is going to be vital.”
Big opportunities, big responsibilities
Ghana are seeking to qualify for a third successive FIFA World Cup, having become just the third African country to get to the quarter-finals, at the last finals in South Africa in 2010. A former international himself, Appiah has already had a caretaker stint in charge of the team before and worked as assistant with the Black Stars for the last four years. Now he has been given the chance to take the job on his own, chosen by the Ghana Football Association above higher profile candidates. “Ghana is a football nation and when you take on a job like the Black Stars coach you take on a big responsibility. I believe we have quality players, and I think with good discipline and good planning we can conquer.”
There is also a personal quest for Appiah to prove that African coaches are as good as the multitude of expatriates brought to the continent to take charge of national teams. “I believe that it is high time that our locals are given a chance, we can’t always just rely on expatriates,” he said. “We need to put down some markers to show that Africa can do it. All coaches like me have a responsibility to do well and to gain the confidence of our leaders. But we also need the support of our people, and we need to be given the same circumstances to work in that expatriate coaches demand.”
Appiah is also taking a measured approach to the star players missing from Ghana’s squad in recent matches for various reasons, like Asamoah Gyan, Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng. He recently travelled across Europe and the Middle East to talk to them about their commitment to the national cause and the possibility of their return to the Black Stars line-up. “There is a place in the side for those whose are prepared to work hard and die for the team. But remember you can’t force someone who doesn’t want to play,” Appiah added.