AN African team can now win the football World Cup, reckons Ghana and Inter Milan star midfielder Sulley Muntari.
Muntari scored the first goal while Michael Essien added a second to steer Ghana to a 2-0 win over Sudan on Sunday to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa â€” their second appearance in the competition.
â€œWhy not?â€ replied Muntari in an interview with IndependentSport here.
â€œWe have very good players in Africa playing for the top teams in Europe, so anything is possible.
â€œPreviously, at least in the last two World Cups, what was lacking in the African teams was discipline, most teams now have that. Itâ€™s really looking bright now.â€
Ghanaâ€™s win at the packed Ohene Djan sports stadium in Accra and a 1-1 draw in the other Group D match between Benin and Mali in Cotonou gave the Black Stars an unassailable lead with two games in hand. They have now amassed a total 12 points, a 100% record.
â€œWell, we did very well three years ago (in Germany in 2006). So all eyes will be on us again. This is going to be historic, the first World Cup in Africa. For us itâ€™s a huge thing so we wanna do well, (and) show we can play.â€
In the run up to the match, the Ghana team trained before hundreds of young adoring fans at the match venue. The perimeter fence of their hotel just outside central Accra was always surrounded by good-natured fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the mostly European-based stars.
Being an exemplary figure in Ghanaian football is something Muntari cherishes.
â€œWe have good talent coming through,â€ he said. â€œIt helps a lot. I also came through the Under 17s and Under 20s. Mike (Essien) and Stephen (Appiah) did the same. Many young kids want to be like us. They look up to us.â€
Muntari, a devout Muslim, also played down talk of a feud between him and his club boss Jose Mourinho over his observance of Ramadan.
Mourinho came under fire from Islamic leaders in Italy over for his comments relating to Muntari and the Muslim fasting month.
The Portuguese trainer claimed the playerâ€™s observance of Ramadan â€” during which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from dawn until sunset â€” was having a negative influence on Muntariâ€™s early form with the Serie A champion.
â€œThere was nothing like that,â€ Muntari said. â€œWe did not talk about it. I just heard rumours that I was having problems with the coach. He (Mourinho) supports me a lot. I donâ€™t know where that (the rumours) came from. I mean, this is the month (of Ramadan). After that I look forward to playing again.â€
Although the 40 000 crowd created an electric atmosphere inside the packed Ohene Djan stadium, Ghanaâ€™s qualification was not greeted with the much-anticipated pomp, perhaps a sign that the country generally feels the Stars are now at a stage where performance in the actual tournament matters more than mere qualification.
Enock Muchinjo in Accra, Ghana