Barreto Promises Passion And Will As Germany 2006 Beckons
He was criticised and ruled out even before he took charge of Ghana. Now as the world cup qualifiers kick off, Mariano Barreto says he and his players will do all it takes to take Ghana to World Cup 2006.
Can Ghana make the 2006 world cup? It is the mighty question on many people's lips as the crucial qualifiers kick off this weekend.
Since I started following Ghana football closely, courtesy that stunning win by the national U-17 side at the world cup, every world cup campaign began with hopes that "this could be the year Ghana qualifies for the world cup."
In 1994, it was a first day fumble in Burundi and a dramatic last minute breakdown against Algeria in Tlemcen that turned Ghana's dream on its head and forced many people into tears.
The players wept along with the nation but typically, there was talk of 'this will be Ghana's year' again as the 1998 qualifiers approached. But the Stars could manage only a draw in Gabon before struggling to draw 2-2 at home against Morocco. The campaign was as good as dead from the point and the North Africans were to ride on the back of Ghana's poor campaign to qualify for France '98.
2002 seemed to hold a lot of hope. After all, there was Nigeria, our mighty foes, talented as us but as we are wont to think, not good when it comes to playing football.
In the end, a poor result at home to Liberia which forced a general overhaul of the team, set the campaign off to a ridiculous start even though at a point, Ghana could have gone into the final game needing a win, only for Liberia to halt that in Sierra Leone with a dramatic late winner.
Now as another campaign starts, optimism is skyrocketing. It has become the talk of town again. And as with most campaigns, it has dominated discussions for the right and wrong reasons.
Day one of training was poor. Mariano Barreto had called up nineteen foreign-based players for camping but only nine bothered to turn up. The coach was furious because as he explained, given the importance of the game, "I had expected a better response."
The response was however encouraging the following morning. Sule Muntari from Udinese had reported, Samuel Osei Kufuor who had sat through some agony as Kotoko crashed out of the Champions League, was in training.
Later that evening, Barreto's tone changed. He now spoke of a good atmosphere in camp, of how his players wanted to win and how he himself wanted to see the Black Stars qualify for the world cup.
Every one in Ghana wants that. From journalists to football fans and executives driving around in the latest and flashy cars, there is an insatiable yearning for world cup football.
Barreto feels though that the desire is not matched by the preparations. When I asked him on Tuesday whether he was aware that Ghanaian football fans wanted world cup qualification badly regardless the many problems with preparations, he said: "People only know how to say 'we must win' but never put in place the conditions necessary for winning."
Barreto's fury has to do with the fact that two friendly games he had scheduled in the run up to the world cup qualifier had been cancelled.
There was a proposed camping session in France that was called off. More hurting for Barreto was that he had to cancel a friendly against Guinea in Paris. Critics had questioned the prudence in playing a friendly in France when Ghana was due to play a major match in the simmering heat of Burkina Faso.
But Barreto says he cancelled the games after he realised he couldn't guarantee the release of players after local clubs derailed the Meteors' friendly against Portugal.
He finds the absence of a major friendly a problem but is promising that his players would come out fighting on Saturday.
"At least, I am happy with one thing. My players want this. They are determined. I speak to Kufuor, Essien, Appiah and all those players and they want to go out there and win for Ghana, which is very important to me."
Barreto has not had much time in his football life so far to watch Burkina Faso, so he doesn't know them much but he knows they can't be taken for minnows for at least one good reason.
"I know Burkina was in the last Nations Cup and that Ghana was not. That is enough reason for me to know they are good."
Barreto watched as Burkina failed to impress in Tunisia but he isn't going to read too much into that.
"Six months is a long time. A lot can change so I don't want to base anything on their nations cup display."
Burkina are not the side you will pay to watch for their free flowing, exciting and eye-pleasing football but what they lack in skill, they make up for with their bulky size and raw determination to do well.
No one epitomises that more than Mumuni Dagano. Strongly built and moderately skilled, he is their main striker and a rare success in Europe for a Burkinabe.
Top scorer in Belgium two seasons ago in Belgium, he is now banging in the goals in France for Guingamp. He is always a handful, which means John Mensah, and Samuel Osei Kufuor will have his work cut out on the day.
But you could argue that Ghana has a lot of Daganos spread all over the team i.e. players who have carved their own niche with high class performances in Europe.
Samuel Osei Kufuor, Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien are some of the few who immediately come to mind. And they are players recognised for their fantastic football abilities.
Many have pointed to the so-called quality of the Ghanaian playing staff as reason to believe that under no circumstance should they fumble in Ouagadougou.
Not Barreto. He points to the just ended European champions league to re-emphasise the point that football thrives on teamwork, not on individual players.
"Do you know who won the champions league? It was FC Porto but if I asked you to name four-star players, you can't because they played as a complete unit. It helps if you have players from Juventus, Bayern Munich and others in your team but it comes to nothing if they don't play as a team."
The prayer is that between this weekend and October 9 when Ghana completes the qualifiers in Cape Verde, Ghana would make the world cup at last.
Barreto says he is no magician to forsee the next year and a half. But he has made a promise: "Me and my players will do everything humanly possible to qualify for the world cup."
Let us see that on Saturday in emphatic style.