Black stars shine again

ACCRA - When Ghana broke through to the World Cup finals for the first time in 2006, they made an instant impression by emerging from a tough group to qualify for the second round. This time around they will be looking to do even better.

ACCRA - When Ghana broke through to the World Cup finals for the first time in 2006, they made an instant impression by emerging from a tough group to qualify for the second round. This time around they will be looking to do even better.

The Black Stars were once a dominant force on the continent, winning the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) four times, though their last championship came in 1982. They have struggled to match those heights since ­ failing to even qualify for the Afcon four times - but a strong performance in their inaugural World Cup finals seems to have sparked them back into life.

The Ghanaians arrived in Germany unfancied and a 2-0 defeat at the boots of Italy in the first match did little to change perceptions. But the Black Stars recovered to defeat the Czech Republic 2-0 and then take out the United States 2-1, booking a slot in the second round at their first attempt. The dream ended with their 3-0 loss to Brazil.

Ghana followed up their World Cup exploits with a third-place finish on home turf in the 2008 Afcon, losing 1-0 to Cameroon in the semifinals and then defeating Ivory Coast 4-2 in the third-place playoff. Qualification for South Africa was an easy affair. Ghana won their first four matches ­ against Benin, Mali and Sudan twice ­ without conceding a goal, becoming the first African team to qualify. They have been grouped with Australia, Germany and Serbia for the World Cup finals that kick off on July 1.

"We want to become the first country to win the World Cup on African soil," said Ghana's powerful midfielder Michael Essien, who is also adamant South Africa will host the best-ever World Cup. Two of Ghana's goal-scorers in the 2006 World Cup - Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah - are once again expected to be key to the 2010 squad. Ghana have already decided on their base camp for the World Cup. The Black Stars will be based in Mpumalanga.

COACH:

Serbian Milovan Rajevac was a little-known name when he took over from Frenchman Claude Le Roy last year. Rajevac, 55, spent much of his career in his homeland, with Red Star Belgrade being the highest-profile club he managed. Rajevac was guiding provincial club FK Borak through the UEFA cup qualifiers when he was handed the Ghana job.

THE STAR:

Michael Essien, 28, is known as "The Bison" for his ability to charge up and down the park with boundless energy. But Chelsea's Essien is far more refined than his nickname suggests, capable of stunning goals and picking out passes as well as shoring up the defence. Essien is a perennial nominee for the Fifa World Player of the Year award. - Sapa-DPA

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