Accra, Oct 21, GNA - The Minister of Education and Sports, Mr Yaw Osafo-Maafo has said that the Africa Cup of Nations slated for Egypt early next year would serve as testing grounds for the Black Stars ahead of their maiden appearance at the Germany 2006 World Cup soccer fiesta. The Stars were on Thursday housed alongside Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe in Group D with a tie against the Super Eagles of Nigeria as the pool opener.
The Minister in tagging Thursday's groupings as the most difficult among the four others says, "the pairing will in no doubt present us the needed testing grounds to prove our worth to the rest of the world" before the soccer Mundial in Germany next year.
Reckoning the level of opposition the West African brothers, Nigeria and Senegal would present to the Stars, the Minister remained buoyant that the challenge would rather manifest the best in the Stars when the bi-annual championship commences on January 20.
Mr Osafo-Maafo said he envisages that the Ghanaians would seize the moment and top the group in its quest to prove that their qualification to Germany was no fluke.
"Nigeria and Senegal would understandably go the extra mile to prove why they should have been at the World Cup with performances that will discredit us. But in the midst of all that, I'm sure the Stars has what it takes to top the group and perform better in Egypt.
"Our biggest advantage and challenge comes with defeating all the teams to assure all and sundry that we've arrived and poised to regain our rightful place".
Ghana last played in the Nations Cup in the Mali 2002 event where a second half deceptive long drive by Super Eagles Garba Lawal sent the Stars packing in their quarter final meeting. Whilst the Stars were absent at the Tunisia 2004 edition, Nigeria claimed silver with the Taranga Lions emerging quarter finalist after losing to the eventual winners, Tunisia.
The East Africans made it to this stage by qualifying as the third team and are considered as the weakest in Group D, an assertion the Minister well appreciates.
" Zimbabwe is obviously the weakest team in the group and will emerge as the whipping boys".
On preparations of the Stars, Osafo- Maafo said the current euphoria running through the country's soccer success remain a crucial tool capable of propelling the team to higher heights for both competitions.
"Thankfully we have Gold fields sponsoring all our trips and matches which will adequately prepare the team for Egypt and Germany. With many more Ghanaians willing to join the fray, one can be assured of a better preparation".
Nigeria is the top seed in the group with Senegal, Ghana and Zimbabwe following in that order.
The Stars like host, Egypt and Cameroon would be hoping to lift their fifth trophies in the 16-team competition. With Nigeria and Senegal booking a place to the Egypt competition only after finishing second in their respective groups, Ghana is the only team among the quartet to have qualified for the World Cup.