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12.05.2006 Sports News

Ghana, Walking Tall At Last!

Ghana, Walking Tall At Last!

The Black Stars arrival at the World Cup means they are finally living up to their billing as one of Africa's leading football powers. Ghana was the first country to win the African Nations Cup four times - a record subsequently equalled by Cameroun and Egypt. So it had long been an anomaly that the Black Stars had never been to the World Cup.

That dream was finally realised in October last year, when Ghana topped its qualifying group for the Germany finals ahead of DR Congo and South Africa, after coming from behind. The comeback was all the more impressive given that Ghana went through four coaches during the campaign and had many line-up changes. But its success merely underlined the considerable talent at its disposal.

The Black Stars began the campaign - a preliminary round tie against Somalia - under German coach, Ralf Zumdick, but he left to become an assistant at Hamburg at the end of 2003. His replacement, Mariano Barretto, lasted nine months before quitting to join Maritimo in his native Portugal. Sam Arday was caretaker for one qualifier before the arrival of Africa's new miracle man, Ratomir Dujkovic.

Ironically, the Serb had plotted the most embarrassing moment in Ghana's national team history when leading tiny Rwanda to the 2004 African Nations Cup at the expense of the Black Stars. Under Dujkovic, Ghana was undefeated in its five qualifiers last year, as it finally booked a World Cup finals place. However, it suffered the ignominy of exiting at the first round stage of the Nations Cup finals in Egypt. Indeed, the 2-1 shocking defeat by Zimbabwe in the final group game threatened to undermine Dujkovic's position.

In mitigation, Ghana went to the tournament without Michael Essien and Sulley Muntairi - two key elements of a midfield that has been ably led over the past 12 months by Stephen Appiah. Ghana is one of Africa's oldest footballing powers, having won the Nations Cup for the first time in 1963. It retained the trophy two years later and won it for a third time in 1978. A 17-year-old Abedi Pele was in the Black Stars line-up during the 1982 triumph.

Ghana has also won the Under-17 World Championship twice, though those successes are now tainted by subsequent revelations of age cheating. Of the players in those winning youth sides, only Samuel Osei Kuffour has gone on to find success at senior international level. The Roma defender will be a welcome addition to Ghana's back-line in Germany, having been restored to the side in November after a long stand-off with Dujkovic.

Key Players
Stephen Appiah: The driving force of the midfield, Appiah already has a rich club pedigree, having played for Udinese, Parma and Juventus in Serie A and now at Fenerbahce in Turkey. He played an invaluable role in leading Ghana to the World Cup finals.

Michael Essien: Africa's current most expensive player is now a major name in the international game. He scored vital goals in the World Cup qualifiers. Matthew Amoah: Restored to the Ghanian side by coach Dujkovic after a two-year absence, he recently signed for Borussia Dortmund from Dutch club, Vitesse Amhem. His tricky skills and pace make up for his lack of stature.

The Coach, Ratomir Dujkovic: The Serb made his name in African football by leading Rwanda to the 2004 Nations Cup and then steering Ghana to its first World Cup. The 60-year-old previously coached the national teams of Venezuela and Burma, and was on the staff of Red Star Belgrade when it won the European Cup in 1991.