Stand-in Black Stars captain, Andre Ayew, says the tragic death last Wednesday of Coach Emmanuel Kwasi Afranie has galvanised the team to win Sunday’s important World Cup qualifier against the Pharaohs as a fitting tribute to the respected former national coach.
Ayew said in an interview at their Dubai training camp that the team recognised the importance of the Group E qualifier in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and were poised to win to honour the man known in Ghanaian football circles as ‘Coach-hene’.
“On behalf of the Black Stars, all my colleagues and myself, I send our condolences to the family of the coach. He was a big figure in Ghana football; what he did with the national teams, our first qualification to the Women’s World Cup, what he did with Hearts and Kotoko. We are very sad but we’ll try to win this game in his honour,” said Ayew, who leads the team against the Pharaohs in the absence of injured captain Asamoah Gyan.
Despite the notable absence of Gyan and Juventus midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah, Coach Avram Grant is putting his side through a rigorous training regimen at their Dubai camp with fitness coach, Jamie Lawrence, being brought in purposely to condition the players for the tough challenge on Sunday.
Ayew, who is back from injury which ruled him out of Ghana’s opening qualifier against Uganda which ended scoreless in Tamale last month, is not oblivious of the task ahead of the Stars who need a good result at the Borg El Arab stadium on Sunday to revive their Russia 2018 campaign.
“This game is a very important one but it’s not the decider. What is important is that we go and play our football and leave Egypt with something. I believe that we have the players; we have the quality to do that.
“The mood in camp is good, everybody is physically fit, mentally good so we’re preparing ourselves for this qualifier in Egypt which will be a difficult game. The level of training we’ve had is good and everybody will be ready on Sunday
“The last time we played against Egypt was a World Cup qualifier and we went through. We’re going into this game to get a good result. We’re here to prove we are Ghana and the best in Africa,” said the West Ham United record buy.
Three years ago, the Stars thrashed the Pharaohs 6-1 in Kumasi on their way to qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, despite losing the return fixture 2-1 in Alexandria. And fate has paired the two sides again for a single group slot for Russia 2018, with midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu confident they would deliver a good result away.
“Everyone is committed at training because we know what’s at stake and we know the expectations of Ghanaians. We are relaxed and calm but very confident.
“We’re working on the quiet and will prove the critics wrong. With the quality we have we can surprise any nation in Africa,” said the confident Udinese midfielder.
Sunday’s match will be a litmus test for Coach Grant who supervises his last World Cup qualifier before his contract comes up for renewal in three months’ time. The Israeli trainer knows that Ghana cannot afford a loss as it could crush the Stars’ World Cup hopes.
His decision to put a lot of premium on physical conditioning of his players in Dubai suggests Grant is determined to get the best out of the Alexandria game, just as Egypt coach Hector Cuper who goes into the match hoping to exact revenge after Ghana crashed their long-cherished World Cup hopes.