NATAL, June 16: Ghana will kick off their World Cup campaign in Natal tipped to beat the United States on Monday, but their bid for a coveted semi-final place could prove a much harder task.
Ghana eliminated the USA in the knockout round four years ago to make it to the quarter-finals before bowing out to eventual fourth-place finishers Uruguay.
In South Africa, Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac, with Kwesi Appiah as assistant, steered the Black Stars into the last eight.
But they were cruelly denied a place in the last four when Asamoah Gyan failed to convert from the spot following a handball on the goal-line by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, with Uruguay going on to win the penalty shoot-out.
Four years on and the aim of Appiah, the first Ghanaian to coach the Black Stars at a World Cup, is to take the Africans a stage further.
But with Group G rivals Germany and Portugal widely expected to grab the top two qualifying places, a healthy dose of realism may be required.
Appiah’s side features a host of big names who ply their trade in Europe, from Juventus wingback Kwadwo Asamoah to AC Milan midfield pair Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, Schalke forward Kevin-Prince Boateng and striker Jordan Ayew, who plays for Marseille.
Ghana have also recently welcomed back striker Abdul Majeed Waris, who scored nine goals in 16 Ligue 1 appearances for Valenciennes during a six-month loan spell from Russian side Spartak Moscow, after he returned from injury quicker than expected.
The United States, coached by former German great Jurgen Klinsmann, face atougher task to impress their critics.
Veteran midfielder Kyle Beckerman watched Ghana in a recent 4-0 friendly win over South Korea, in which Ayew struck a hat-trick and where Majeed Waris picked up his knock, and was impressed: “They looked really good. They’re strong, fast…technically good.
“So it’s going to take unbelievable effort from us and it’s going to take our best, but we’re looking forward to that.”
Appiah, who is known by his players as the ‘Silent Killer’ for his taciturn but no-nonsense manner, has a lot to live up to having injected fresh blood into a squad which includes 16 World Cup newcomers.
But former Nigeria and United States coach Bora Milutinovic has warned the Americans to underestimate Ghana at their peril.
“They are a very good team, young, very good mentality,” Milutinovic said after watching Ghana trounce South Korea.
“It will be a big challenge for all teams in this group. Everybody is very strong. It is like a small World Cup between four teams.”