Black Starlets aiming to light up the Peruvian sky
For what is their seventh FIFA U-17 World Championship, Ghana have but one objective: to get back to winning ways after a few years in the wilderness. Twice triumphant in six finals contested and third placed on one occasion, the Black Starlets will definitely be among the favourites to lift the world crown in the category.
The Ghanaians earned their ticket to Peru by reaching the African U-17 Championship final last May. That match was lost in controversial circumstances to the host country Gambia and has left a feeling of unfinished business that brought the normally reserved coach David Duncan out of his shell: "We will prove in Peru that we are the best!" Ghana's initial opponents at the tournament are now known, namely the redoubtable Chinese, host country Peru and unknowns Costa Rica, in Group A.
The Central Americans apart, Duncan at least has some idea of the task awaiting his charges: "China's highly organised style of play could well cause us problems, while in front of their home fans, Peru will also be a tough nut to crack." Old hands in this event and blessed with some real stars of the future, Ghana should have enough in their locker to successfully negotiate the group stage.
Muddled preparations for a strengthened side Upon qualifying for the tournament, the Black Starlets' technical staff were immediately thinking big, as they concocted an ambitious programme of warm-up games. A tournament in England featuring games against the likes of Chelsea, Middlesbrough and the English U-17 side was pencilled in, as was a trip to France punctuated by four friendly encounters, all rounded off by a final trip to Florida, before flying on to Peru at the start of the competition week. As it transpired, the main bulk of their preparatory work ended up taking place during a three-month training camp at the national sports institute in Winneba, a little town an hour from Accra, but the Florida trip at least remains on the cards.
In order to avoid any nasty surprises, the African runners-up have been reinforced by ten new players, two of them from the domestic top flight league (Stephen Afful and Isaac Anderson). Like their star player Sadat Bukari, the pair are exceptions to the Ghanaian federation's rule not to include any first division players in the squad.
After their three-month training camp spent fine-tuning their reflexes and building team spirit, the band led by captain Emmanuel Ansong will now be looking to emulate the likes of Samuel Kuffour and Michael Essien, their glorious predecessors in the ranks of the Blacks Starlets.
In a fixed 4-4-2 formation with an impressively industrious midfield, David Duncan intends to ensure that his stars shine in the Peruvian sky. Fond of explaining all his victories in religious terms, he has already planned to emblazon the following caption on the wall of the Ghanaian changing room on the night of the final: "Jesus Christ has made this victory possible…" let no one be in any doubt: the "Brazilians of Africa" are well and truly up for this one!