It is a view that the legendary Abedi Pele, a member of the side that won the African title in 1982, shares. “When you have a tournament without many big names, every country goes in with the confidence that they can win. This will be one of the most open competitions ever.”
Dousing the country’s expectations, Abedi says, would help lessen the pressure on the team. “I am also part of the group of people who think we can win,” he says. “But it’s difficult when you expect too much and start putting pressure on your players. That could make the tournament situation very hard. It’s a huge opportunity for us, no doubt, but let us be calm.”
Unfortunately, the players charged with the task of ending the Nations Cup quest have done little to manage expectations. “People hail us for doing well at the World Cup. But in the future, we’ll have to ask questions about what we have actually won. At the moment we have nothing to show,” says Andre Dede Ayew, the Olympique Marseille player and Abedi’s son. Goran Stevanovic, the third Serbian coach to manage the Black Stars in five years, has been wise enough to avoid getting trapped in the vortex of hype. “We will try to do our best,” he says coyly.
Since taking over the team, following Milovan Rajevac’s departure, Stevanovic has opted for an attacking philosophy that has earned the commendation of his paymasters.
“Stevanovic has convinced us that he is the right man for the job… He has good control over the team, instils discipline, teamwork and a proper work ethic,” GFA boss Nyantakyi says.
Playing with the verve and panache needed to win a trophy will require a group of experienced, fit and in-form players, which seems to be lacking at the moment. Central defender John Mensah is a case in point. A huge asset when in good nick, the Black Stars captain has hardly played club football this season. Regular right back John Paintsil has had a horrid time at Leicester City in the English Championship, and attacking midfielder Sulley Muntari has been out of favour at the Italian side, Inter.
But the discovery of some exciting talent, like goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, has been a major plus. His quality was evident during his recent debut against Brazil in London, making a string of world-class saves that earned him a permanent place in the side. Midfielder Agyemang Badu has also become a consistent regular, and Kwadwo Asamoah, his Udinese team-mate, is heavily relied upon to provide the creative genius for Ghana, whilst Andre Dede Ayew’s form, at the 2010 Nations Cup and World Cup, indicates he has inherited the big tournament mentality from his famous father.
“Dede is showing every day that he can take responsibility, and Badu plays with a really big heart. Those two players have really improved,” says Mohammed Polo, a 1978 Nations Cup winner with Ghana. And Asamoah Gyan is no slacker either. Scoring three of Ghana’s four goals at Angola 2010 and three of their five World Cup goals, Gyan is expected to deliver the much-needed goods.
But Polo, also a former African Player of the Year, poignantly observes that teamwork, rather than individual brilliance, is what will lead Ghana to finally break the trophy jinx.
“We have been talking largely about teamwork, with all the individuals pulling together. It is not a team that relies on one player,” Polo says.
Millions of Ghanaian fans hope Polo’s take on the team is a winning tonic which will be replicated on the pitch. The possibility of the Nations Cup drought entering into a fourth decade is something no one is prepared to contemplate.