Kofi Danning in Ghana-Australia World Cup dilemma
Sydney FC's Ghanaian-born midfielder could be the only Australian happy on June 19, writes Sebastian Hassett.
WHEN the Socceroos play Ghana in what looms as a potentially group-shaping fixture for Pim Verbeek's side, every Australian will be on the edge of their seats.
Sydney FC midfielder Kofi Danning will be just as anxious, but for a very differentreason.
Make no mistake,the 18-year-old, in his own words, is a ''true blue Aussie boy''.
But Danning was born in Ghana - moving to Canberra when he was seven - and with much of his family still living there, the ties that bind ensure his emotions will be running high on June 19 when the teams square off in Rustenburg.
Danning anxiously waited for news of the final draw on Saturday morning but his excitment soon turned to horror when he realised his two favourite teams would most likely be fighting each other and Serbia, for the coveted second spot behind Germany inGroup D.
''At first I was really scared and very indecisive. I just couldn't believe it and was like 'Ohmy god, who am I going to support?','' Danning told the Herald yesterday.
''I've represented Australia at the under-20 level, which made me so proud, and to see the senior team play against the team I grew up supporting, and have always loved will be hard to watch. Yes, I was born in Ghana but I've now spent most of my life in Australia. It really is 50-50.''
Asked if he had a prediction, Danning was equally diplomatic: ''What I want, more than anything else, is a draw. But I want Australia to be successful. If Ghana lost, I wouldn't be too disappointed because it would mean the Socceroos had won.''
Emotions aside, Danning believes the Black Stars are a team Australia might be able to unsettle. While he believes their reputation as one of the growing power nations of African football is entirely justified, they're still susceptible to slip-ups.
''Ghana is a very hard side to judge because when they play well, they're unstoppable but when they're having problems, it's very easy for other teams to penetrate them and get goals,'' Danning said.
''For Ghana to beat Australia, or anyone else, they'll have to play a very good game and be at their best. Don't forget that they've never beaten Australia, either.''
Not surprisingly, Danning believes the key to unlocking Milovan Rajevac's team is to nullify the genius of Chelsea superstar Michael Essien, one of the classiest midfielders onthe planet.
''Obviously he is the star player of Ghana, he's a champion. But if you can stop him in the midfield and from letting him have chances to shoot, I think they won't be anywhere near as good as they can be,'' he said.
''He runs the midfield and gets in the right positions and knows what to do when he has the ball. There's also Laryea Kingston, who is very skilful player and needs to be stopped. If Australia can shut both of those guys down, they should be fine.''
Danning's ultimate dream is to see both sides progress through the next stage and while he realises that it's ''extremely unlikely'' to happen, he's holding out hope that Germany and Serbia slip up.
''I want Australia and Ghana to both go through, I don't care who is second or first. That wouldbe perfect,'' he said.
''They're two teams who have worked very hard to get here and who knows, I think they both can beat Germany and Serbia. Germany always take a while to get started at the World Cup, sothat might help Australia when they play first up.''
2010 World Cup draw
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia
Group E: Netherlands, Japan, Cameroon, Denmark
Group F: Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Cost, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Honduras, Chile, Switzerland