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If you want to know about globalisation in football, visit an African team. At their press conference in sleepy Würzburg, Ghana fielded players from AS Roma, Borussia Dortmund and Turkey’s Fenerbahçe, as well as their Serbian coach.
Just to underline the point, the coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, lapsed spontaneously into Spanish at one point, to the consternation of reporters.
A former goalkeeper, the dour Dujkovic once played for Real Oviedo in a peripatetic career that has also seen him take charge of Venezuela, Burma and Rwanda. He must feel at home with this squad drawn from a bizarre assortment of clubs ranging from the King Faisal Babes to Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea.
At least five of the players have experience of Italy. So when the west African World Cup debutants line up against Marcello Lippi’s men in Hanover tonight do not expect it to be the footballing version of Strangers on a Train, even though the two teams have never met at full international level.
“It is going to be a special game for me . . . I have to prove to [Lippi] what I learnt from him,” says Stephen Appiah, once of Juventus, the team’s captain and midfield lynchpin. Appiah sports so much sparkling jewellery that a second career beckons at De Beers.
Defender Samuel Kuffour knows some of Monday night’s opponents, such as AS Roma team-mate Francesco Totti, so well, that he has had a friendly bet with them on the outcome. “I will give the money to SOS [the international charity],” he says.
In all, six of the squad (and three Italians) featured two years ago when the sides drew 2-2 in the Olympic football tournament in Athens – a match not accorded full international status. As Kuffour’s comment suggests, there is no lack of confidence – or at least braggadocio – in the squad, in spite of the fiendish difficulty of a draw
that also sees them bracketed with the underrated USA and the classy Czech Republic.
“I believe we will come to the semi-final,” says Dujkovic, which would set a
new standard for an African team. “Any team that
plays Ghana has to suffer to beat us.”
After their disappointing African Nations Cup, his men look to be running nicely into form, with
a recent 3-1 win over
2002 semi-finalists South Korea under their belts.
But matching the coach’s expectations will be a tall order. Even if they can navigate their group, world champions Brazil may be lurking in wait in the first knockout round. Then again, as Kuffour drily observes, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and their chums have not yet qualified for the last 16.
With Appiah and Chelsea’s Michael Essien – who missed the African Nations Cup because of injury – in midfield, the Black Stars can expect plenty of possession in all their matches, even tonight. It must, after all, be at least a decade since Italy produced anything resembling a complete midfielder. As in near neighbours Ivory Coast’s defeat by Argentina on Saturday, one key will be whether they can make that possession count.
The other will be whether a defence often seen as weak on the flanks and slow on the turn can cope with strikers of the nip and pedigree of Czech Republic’s Milan Baros and Italy’s Filippo Inzaghi.
Kuffour, one of the unfortunate Bayern Munich players pickpocketed by Manchester United in the 1999 European Cup final, was cheetah-sharp in the press conference. He will need to be so on the pitch tonight if his team are to squeak a result against probably the wiliest operators in world football.