By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE – Hard work, discipline and team spirit have united Ghana into a team capable of upsetting the favourites at the World Cup finals, manager Ratomir Dujkovic says.
Inexperience and nerves, though, could take their toll in a
tough group in Germany.
“We are a young and competitive team capable of upsetting the favourites but I hope my players don’t succumb to pressure in the opening fixture against Italy,” Dujkovic said.
If any coach is qualified to calm nerves then it is Dujkovic. The 60-year-old Serb has a wealth of experience, having coached Venezuela and Myanmar as well as Rwanda, whom he took to the 2004 African Nations Cup.
He was also on the coaching staff when Red Star Belgrade won the European Cup in 1991.
He is now in charge of a side abundant in talent which has been tipped by some experts as the possible surprise package of the tournament, though poor recent form suggests Ghana may find it difficult to cope with the pressure.
“We would have been the underdogs in any group as it’s our first appearance in the finals and we don’t have the experience,” said Dujkovic, who was appointed by Ghana in December 2004.
“But we have nothing to lose either and the lads will play their hearts out for Ghana.”
The West African nation, making their debut in the World Cup finals after 44 years of trying, have been drawn in Group E with Italy, the United States and the Czech Republic.
Ghana play the Italians in Hanover on June 12, the Czechs in Cologne on June 17 and complete their group fixtures against the United States in Nuremberg on June 22.
Ghana won the African Cup of Nations four times from 1963 to 1982 but have endured a long barren spell after what was widely seen as the nation’s golden football era.
Dujkovic said the success of reaching the World Cup finals has been achieved through imbuing a sense of discipline and team spirit in a side often divided into clans.
“There have been many rifts in the past and previous Ghana generations — perhaps even more talented than this one — have suffered greatly as a result.
“No one thought we had it in us to qualify for Germany 2006 except the technical staff and we pulled through thanks to hard work, discipline and a fantastic team spirit.”
Captain Stephen Appiah and Chelsea midfielder Mickael Essien emerged as the team leaders and their absence at January’s African Cup of Nations in Egypt through injury was painfully obvious.
“We missed several key players at the tournament but should have done better. We were a bit unlucky in the end as we went out on goal difference and Senegal got through even though we had beaten them,” said Dujkovic, who will have Appiah and Essien back for the World Cup.
Ghana lost the opening Nations Cup match to Nigeria 1-0 and then suffered a shock 2-1 defeat against Zimbabwe that put paid to their hopes of having a better prelude to the World Cup finals.
“As a result, most pundits have written us off and I came under strong pressure from the media in Ghana but we have pulled our socks up and are determined to give our fans in Germany something to cheer about,” Dujkovic said.
Dujkovic is optimistic that Ghana will have strong support in Germany with many of the nation’s overseas-based fans expected to make the trip from the Netherlands, Belgium and other western European countries.
“Demand for match tickets has already trebled the supply available to our fans and we are really looking forward to what should be a soccer extravaganza.
“Our fans are very creative and imaginative. They will set up a fantastic atmosphere in the terraces and will revel in every minute they spend in the World Cup.”
Dujkovic believes Ivory Coast, pitted in Group C against his native Serbia & Montenegro, are the strongest African contenders along with Tunisia, drawn against Spain, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia in Group H.
“Ivory Coast, with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba up front, are a fantastic team and I won’t be surprised if they qualify for the second round at the expense of more fancied opposition.
“Tunisia, on the other hand, have a strong squad and the outstanding Brazilian-born striker (Francileudo) Dos Santos, who could definitely make a name for himself in the tournament.
“But overall it’s going to be a tough World Cup for African teams, especially for Angola, Togo and ourselves. All three nations and Ivory Coast are first-timers up against some of the world’s most established football nations.”
Apart from Serbia & Montenegro, Ivory Coast’s group includes the Netherlands and twice world champions Argentina.
Angola face Portugal, Mexico and Iran while Togo have been drawn with 1998 winners France, Switzerland and South Korea. — Reuter