Ghana are not nicknamed the ‘Brazil of Africa’ for nothing. Football lovers know all about the qualities of the Black Stars, who have been entertaining fans in all four corners of Africa with their easy-on-the-eye style of play since the 1970s.
The Ghanaians will be hoping their technical attributes can carry them through the 20-team final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, which takes place in the last quarter of this year and will see them take on Egypt, Uganda and Congo in a group that looks too close to call.
To assess the prospects of Asamoah Gyan and Co making it to the next World Cup, and the strengths of their opponents, FIFA.com sat down with their former coach Kwesi Appiah, the man who took them to Brazil 2014. “There are no little or big teams in modern football,” he said. “The game has developed in Africa and every opponent is strong now. If Ghana are going to qualify, then they will have to prepare for every match.
“We can’t just rest on past achievements, no matter how glorious the past was. First and foremost, we need to take a close look at how Egypt, Uganda and Congo play and at their best players. As long as we play our best football, we’ll qualify. It’ll be a far from easy task, though.”
Appiah was on the Ghana coaching staff at South Africa 2010 when they reached the quarter-finals before going out on penalties to Uruguay, their best ever performance at a World Cup. Reflecting on that campaign, he said: “The key to that success was the decision that the coach Milovan Rajevac made in bringing some of the U-20 players into the side for the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
“Those players had won the Africa Cup of Nations in their age group the year before in Egypt. They came on so much as a result of that competition, and we kept the same team through to the World Cup. They were young and they listened to our advice. That team was a compact unit, which was a big factor in the excellent run we had. We also studied our opponents closely and the information we gathered helped us come up with a strategy for every match.”
While Ghana came ever so close to reaching the last four at South Africa 2010, there were no African sides in the quarter-finals in Brazil four years later. The Ghanaians are intent on finally breaking through the barrier and reaching a World Cup semi-final, an objective they would dearly love to achieve at Russia 2018.
“I think it could happen in Russia,” Appiah said. “Everything will obviously depend on the plans the African federations have for their teams, without forgetting external factors and team stability. World champions Germany have had the same team and coaching staff in place for years now, bringing just one or two new players because of injury or retirement. African teams need to have long-term plans in place to reach the final rounds of the World Cup.
“I think Ghana have some excellent players and an experienced team. If the preparations are right, then we have a great chance of reaching the semis. There are least 23 players who can lay claim to a starting place and who play for big clubs. If some players get injured, we’ve got cover for them. No one’s irreplaceable anyway.”
Appiah offered some advice for the African sides that qualify for Russia 2018 and aim to go as far as possible in the competition.
“Unlike the big teams, we don’t make plans in Africa for the next four or eight years,” he said. “Every time we take part, we look for players who are available and forget all about stability. African teams should look to the long term because we have some excellent players.
“The World Cup doesn’t just come down to the three group-phase matches. To reach the semi-finals, you have to put the work in and get the players to believe they can win.”