2014 World Cup: Countdown to Rio – Ghana
It was a moment to rank alongside Diego Maradona’s infamous use of the “Hand of God” in 1986.
Dominic Adiyiah’s header was goalbound but Luis Suarez stuck out a palm, kept the ball out and was sent off. Ghana had a penalty, in the final minute of extra time, to beat Uruguay.
And to reach the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa; to become the first African team to make the last four. History beckoned …
But Asamoah Gyan’s penalty skimmed the crossbar and Ghana went on to lose 4-2 in the subsequent spot-kick shoot-out. Justice was not seen to be done; Suarez’s “Hand of Sod” had proved decisive.
Four years on, there is a burning desire to right a huge wrong. Kwesi Appiah looked on helplessly that day, as assistant to coach Milovan Rajevac, but he is now in the Ghana hot seat.
And he is bullish about his team’s chances of at least repeating the 2010 heroics. “The most important thing is how you prepare yourself and how you psyche up the boys for the tournament,” Appiah said.
“I believe that we can do much better than we did the last time. You never know! I believe that we’ve got the players.
“A good team is a team that has got a good bench and, at the moment, we’ve also got a very good bench. That’s why I think we can go very far, maybe even taking the cup!”
Appiah’s optimism may be a shade unrealistic. Just looking at Group G, with Germany, Portugal and the United States making up the numbers, Ghana may struggle to even reach the second round.
They did qualify for the finals in style, demolishing Egypt 7-3 on aggregate in an African zone play-off, but the Germans, Portuguese and Americans pose significantly greater threats.
Mind you, Ghana did defeat the US 2-1 in both the 2006 and 2010 finals. And they open against them in Natal on 16 June. An omen?
Appiah, 53, has selected 16 players who have no World Cup finals experience, a bit of a risk. Yet there are quite a few wise, old heads elsewhere to nurse the rookies through the campaign.
It has helped also that the mood in the camp now appears stable, with Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gyan having put behind them various spells of self-imposed exile from the national team.
“It is always good to have some experienced players in your team,” Appiah said. “The most important thing is making sure that they are fully fit for the tournament. With them, and the youth around them, we have a very good team.
“When we go to any tournament, we’ve got that fighting spirit. We will fight to the bitter end and properly represent our country. That’s why I keep saying we may surprise the world.”
It would not surprise 31-year-old Essien, who missed South Africa 2010 due to a knee injury. “The squad for this tournament is the best Ghana has to offer,” he said.
“The quality in depth is extremely good, especially in midfield. We have multiple options in most positions.
“Our initial aim is to get into the second round, then take it from there. We are capable of going one better than last time and making it to the semi-finals or even the final.
“Anything can happen and, without doubt, it will be a journey. We’re looking forward to it.”
31 May Netherlands 1 (van Persie 5), Ghana 0 (in Rotterdam)
9 Jun v South Korea (Miami, US)
Group G fixtures:-
16 Jun v United States (Natal)
21 Jun v Germany (Fortaleza)
26 Jun v Portugal (Brasilia)