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Ghana set sights on celebrating progress

By Timothy Collings

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - Ghana hope to have more than birthdays to celebrate on Saturday when they seek to clinch their passage to the World Cup second round with a decisive Group D triumph over Australia.

After goalkeeper Richard Kingson marked his 32nd birthday last Sunday with a fine display in the Black Stars' opening 1-0 win over Serbia, it was the turn on Tuesday of defender John Pantsil, who was 29.

In a typically flamboyant display of African joy, the squad partied with hotel staff, enjoyed a cake, a jug of beer and a food fight, before coach Milovan Rajevac ensured normal concentration was resumed.

He knows Ghana have an excellent chance to be Africa's most successful side here and could at least emulate Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) in reaching the quarter-finals.

But they must first overcome an Australia team stung by a 4-0 thrashing by Germany and missing talismanic attacking midfielder Tim Cahill, suspended after being sent off.

If that is achieved, with the concentration required to match their talent, it will set up a likely second-round clash back in Rustenburg with the winners from Group C.

That would pit them against Slovenia, England, Algeria or the United States -- presuming Germany go on to win Group D.

LAST CHANCE

A victory over always-tenacious Australia cannot be taken for granted, however, as Ghana have won only once against them in six previous meetings.

Serbian coach Rajevac has warned against complacency.

"For Australia, this is the last chance," he said. "They are a very competitive nation and I am sure they will fight. Their performance against Germany did not show the real picture."

Rajevac is likely to pick an unchanged side, though he may consider giving captain Stephen Appiah a start in a team molded from two outstanding generations of Ghanaian players.

The 2001 vintage reached the world youth cup final while the current crop won the under 20's trophy in Egypt in 2009.

Australia's Dutch coach Pim Verbeek has had to fight fires and rebuild morale this week. He may bring in Harry Kewell, who has recovered from a long-term injury, to replace Cahill and may also select Mark Bresciano and Josh Kennedy, who are also fit.

Kewell, 31, arguably Australia's finest player, if not as effective as Cahill, has rejected talk of rifts and rallied the team.

"It wasn't a great effort against Germany, but there are two games to go and anything can happen in a World Cup," he said.

"We were all disappointed in that game, but we are all men and we take it on the chin. There are still two games to go and we have got time to turn things around."

With captain Lucas Neill marshalling a solid defense that conceded only four goals in 14 qualifiers, before being punctured as many times by the Germans, the Socceroos are expected to produce a gritty display.

But it may not be enough against one of the most athletic and powerful attacking teams in the tournament even in the absence of Michael Essien whose knee injury ruled him out.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)