Ghana aims at history with a smile
Attending training sessions at the World Cup tends to be an exercise in observing paranoia, as the media is shuffled away after 15 minutes of watching suspicious players engage in desultory stretching exercises.
Not with Ghana, though. For a team standing on the brink of history, Ghana's players seem remarkably relaxed. Their training this week has had an air of hilarity, with media welcome to linger and observe their end-of-session short-pitch games, contested with a gleeful competiveness that speaks to a great team spirit.
That sense of cohesiveness has been elusive for many teams. After being sacked as manager of the Ivory Coast in February,
The Cup of Nations presented the first sign that this Ghana squad could achieve something special in South Africa. Despite the absence of Muntari, and the injuries to
Perhaps the most impressive of the youngsters has been
"In life there are events that make you go forward and grow up fast," said Ayew, who had grown up in the academy at Marseille, where his father had dazzled in the early-'90s." I had played about 30 games with Lorient and when I arrived back at Marseille I heard that they didn't want me. I had to bounce back. I had to make the right divisions. There was no room for error. I had the chance to choose Arles, and they trusted me.
"Everybody was behind me, and more important, they let me play in my natural position on the right side of midfield."
Arles won promotion, which with a victory in the Under-20 championship and a runners-up medal from the Cup of Nations, has made this an extraordinary season for Ayew.
"All this was very important, but after what happened last year, to play in a World Cup is something I couldn't have hoped for," he said. "I learned a lot. I'm tougher from a mental point of view. At the end of the day this was bad but something good came from it. I succeeded in having my head high again."
A victory for Ghana over Australia would go a log way toward ensuring qualification into the knockout round, making it only the second African side to make it through the group stages for a second time. Australia lost its first game 4-0, but Ghana's players are wary of complacency. "They won't play like that against us," said Mensah.
Tactically, Ghana is probably as sophisticated as any West African team has been, something that was apparent not just at the Cup of Nations but also in its opening win over Serbia. "The coach is good," Mensah said. "We all know that. He does his tactical thing and we do what he says. This compact play, that's what he wants and it's what we do and we all believe this compact play will help us move forward."
Ghana's midfield five squeeze the opposition, and while it might not be the most thrilling football to watch, it is undeniably effective.
Of Ghana's last six competitive games, four have been won 1-0, all of them in a manner that generated and air of command once it had the lead. Ghana's first priority is to win control of the center, and then to get the goal that will convert that superiority into victory.
Perhaps Asamoah Gyan is left isolated at times, but as Rajevac has made clear from the start, results matter more to him that excitement.
Given that no other African team has yet won a game at this tournament, it is hard to argue with his method." I follow the instructions," said Ayew. "We have to defend well before attacking. That's exactly what we have done as a team, and we've been rewarded for it. It's important for us to bring happiness to our country and to Africa."