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Crunch Time for Ghana

Kennedy Gondwe/Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Anthony Baffor analyses Ghana’s chances.

Associated features on Ghana: Daily living to a fan (Photo feature), Soccerscapes (Photo feature), Ghana's Black Queens (Photo feature), Second hand goods (Photo feature), Ghana's future stars (Photo feature), A female football fan (Photo feature) and Sports commentators (Photo feature)

As Ghana, Africa’s last representative in this year’s FIFA World Cup, play Uruguay on Friday in a crunch-quarter final tie, expectations for a positive result are high on the continent.

One person who is keenly following the Black Stars performance, and is confident of Ghana going all the way, is their former defender, Anthony Baffor.

Baffor played for Ghana in the 90s and featured in two Africa Cup finals. The former FC Cologne and Metz player met up with Twenty Ten’s Kennedy Gondwe at Sandton’s Inter-Continental Hotel in Johannesburg and analysed Ghana’s chances…

Kennedy Gondwe: What do you make of Ghana’s performance in the World Cup?

Anthony Baffor: It’s very encouraging; not only for Ghana but the whole continent. I will never forget Oliver Kahn’s [former Germany goalkeeper] words before Ghana played Germany at this World Cup. He said that African teams will not make it because of the indiscipline and poor organisational structures, but I think that he didn’t see who was leading the group and who still is. We were tactically organised on the pitch and we had superior mental strength. That helped us even in the game against the USA. Friday’s encounter against Uruguay is a very important one both tactically and mentally. In the match against Uruguay, we must respect the other players but not fear them.

KG: Why do you think Ghana has gone this far?

AB: Ghana has gone this far because of the will power of the players and the unity in the team. This is a continuation of the 2006 team in Germany and the 2008 Africa Cup finals which were hosted by Ghana. When you look at the 2010 Africa Cup finals in Angola, the Black Stars managed to reach the final despite having a lot of injuries in the team. When you look back, the last team to have made it to the final of the Nations Cup was my generation, the generation of Abedi Pele and Anthony Yeboah. The current crop of players has equalled it, but what is important for the country is that we also won the U-20 World Cup. Besides, our preparations were far ahead of time. There were no issues of bonuses. Equally important is that we are not here to play for Ghana alone, but Africa. Madiba Magic is not only for South Africa, but Mother Africa, the whole continent.

KG: When you compare your generation to the current one, some would argue that yours was much better. You had the likes of Abedi, yourself, Tony Yeboah, Sammy Kuffor, and yet you guys never qualified for the World Cup. Why?

AB: At the end of the day, what matters is team spirit and that was the handicap that prevented us from going very far. We had great personalities in the team like Charles Akunors, Kwesi Appiahs, Yaw Prekos, Nii Lampteys and many others. These are great names, but the current generation have learnt more; they are together; they are united and they play good football. One thing that our country is blessed with is talent. We have abundant talent. If you compare Ghana’s talent to other countries that are in a transition between the young and old players, you’ll see a huge difference. Back to my generation, like I said, it was the issue of team spirit. But we are now united. I am the founder of the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana and we are creating players’ associations like they have in England. The older generation of players that I played with in Ghana has come together. We don’t need to be friends, but at least we share one objective. The most important thing is to speak the same language. It’s
also important that former players take up the coaching badges and not only living it to expatriate coaches.

KG: It’s interesting that you talk about expatriate coaches but the person who’s taken Ghana to the quarter-finals is an expatriate coach. How then do you reconcile the two?

AB: I am not against expatriate coaches, but what is important is getting something from them. The long term vision should be involving more local coaches. Some of these expatriate coaches are paid a lot of money, yet they can’t even take their teams to the second round. Do you want to tell me that a local coach can’t do that? Let me say it one more time: I am not against them, but we have to get to that philosophy of encouraging the local coaches. Give them a good salary for them to do a good job and be independent.

KG: Where do you think things went wrong for the likes of Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Algeria and the hosts, South Africa? A lot of people didn’t give Ghana a chance but they’ve gone this far?

AB: I must tell you that in the last World Cup in 2006, everyone spoke about Ivory Coast. Nobody spoke about Ghana, but Ghana went to the second round. In 2008 at the Africa Cup, everybody spoke about Ivory Coast, but Ghana went further. This year at the Africa Cup in Angola, people spoke about Ivory Coast but Ghana reached the finals. Ivory Coast have a great team of individuals. Even at this World Cup, I said their performance was better than previously, and if they get their act together in terms of team spirit, which I think is coming back, they really are dangerous. If you take the players individually, they have the best players on the African continent, but individual players don’t make a team. It’s important to get the right guys that have the spirit and give them motivation. I am a big fan of the Ivorian national team. I like president [Jacques] Anuma at the FA. I believe Ivory Coast will now get their act together because their players are world-class.

If you look at Cameroon, there hasn’t been a great transition from the junior sides to the experienced players. You have to emphasise youth development. At a junior level, it’s not about bringing cups home, it’s about development. If you look at Argentina and Spain, you will find that they spend eight years developing youngsters.

Nigeria is also suffering from the lack of team spirit. You can’t tell me that they don’t have players. A country with 150 million people cannot be short of talent. They also need to get their act together. African players are good individually, but football is about team spirit if we are to move ahead.

KG: What are your expectations ahead of Ghana’s game against Uruguay on Friday?

AB: [Preceded by a deep breath] I am praying for Mother Ghana and Mother Africa that the boys are tactically prepared. We have the players but it’s rather unfortunate that Dede Ayew, who is at the top of his game, will miss the game because of a second yellow card. These are the things that we have to live with in the tournament. This is not Father Christmas who can choose who should have a yellow card and who shouldn’t.

I am counting on Kevin Boateng and experienced players like Richard Kingson who have never disappointed in big matches. Then you also have John Mensah, Isaac Vorsah, and Anthony Annan who are doing very well. We will see if the coach will choose Stephen Appiah or Sulley Muntari from the beginning. There’s also Asamoah Gyan who is having a fantastic World Cup. We have players who have self-belief and know that their shoulders will be heavy from the beginning because they will not only be carrying the load of Ghana but Mother Africa. Ghana always create history; we were the first African country to be independent, the first country to win the U-20 World Cup and this is time to create another history, we have to be mentally prepared and leave no room for error. The least error against Diego Forlan can kill you.

KG: Let’s assume you met the players today. What would you tell them ahead of the match?

AB: I am in permanent contact with them. You don’t need to tell them a lot at this stage. They know they are not playing for themselves. They are playing for Ghana, Africa and also their families. They have already made history and if they want to write a book, they should be looking at 60, 70, 80 or maybe more than a 100 pages. I have faith in the boys because they have the capacity and capability to make it. They should show Uruguay where we Africans are from.

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