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    Ghana

    Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah called up German-Ghanaian striker Kevin-Prince Boateng and brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew to his 26-player provisional FIFA World Cup™ squad.

    The trio, who all sat out last year's Africa Cup of Nations, are new additions to the squad with both Boateng and Andre Ayew having starred for the Ghanaians in their run to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to Uruguay.

    Ghana have been drawn in Group G along with one of the favourites for the title Germany, UEFA EURO 2012 semi-finalists Portugal and the United States, coached by Jurgen Klinsmann. They begin their campaign in Brazil on 16 June against the United States in Natal.

    Boateng, who as in the 2010 group stage will probably face his half-brother German international Jerome, and Jordan Ayew join another of the stars of the 2010 finals in Al Ain's Asamoah Gyan and Valenciennes's Abdul Majid Waris as the team's strikers.

    Andre Ayew will vie with the likes of veteran Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah to earn a final spot as one of the midfielders.

    Ghana squad

    Goalkeepers:
    Adam Larsen Kwarasey (Strømsgodset/NOR), Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates/RSA), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars)

    Defenders:
    Samuel Inkoom (Platanias/GRE), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege/BEL), Harrison Afful (Esperance/TUN) Jeffery Schlupp (Leicester City/ENG), John Boye (Renne/FRA), Jonathan Mensah (Evian/FRA), Rashid Sumaila (Mamelodi Sundowns/RSA), Jerry Akaminko (Eskisehirspor/TUR)

    Midfielders:
    Michael Essien (AC Milan/ITA), Sulley Ali Muntari (AC Milan/ITA), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar/RUS), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus/ITA), Emmanuel Agyemang Badu (Udinese/ITA), Afriyie Acquah (Parma/ITA), Andre Ayew (Marseille/FRA), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan/RUS), Christian Atsu Twasam (Vitesse/NED), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough/ENG), David Titi Accam (Helsingborg/SWE)

    Forwards:
    Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain/UAE), Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan/ITA), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes/FRA), Jordan Ayew (Sochaux/FRA)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Appiah: I am my own man

    Ghana Black Stars coach James Kwesi Appiah will call the shots at the FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil for the first time and he has insisted he will do it his own way. The 53-year-old former international defender made history when he became the first local coach to guide Ghana to the World Cup last year.

    "Since I took over the job, I have been my own man. If you let someone influence your decision, they won't respect you," said Appiah, who was an assistant to Serbian Milovan Rajevac when Ghana reached the quarter-finals at the 2010 World Cup. "You do things your own way when in charge of the team and if they don't work out you become responsible for the consequences. If they do, you take the honours."

    Appiah's first test as boss after being appointed in April 2012 was the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. The highly fancied Black Stars were stopped in the semi-finals by Burkina Faso. The coach insists there were positive aspects to the team's performance in the tournament.

    "For me, I have never regretted in any step I have taken. The main reason (why we did not win) being many of the players we took to the Nations Cup were young and we were building the team," he reasoned. "Saying that, any coach goes into a competition to win it and I don't think we were disgraced at the competition. We came out of the competition with a lot of players who had played a tournament for the first time and could help us in the future."

    Ghana put behind their exit from the Nations Cup to qualify for the 2014 World Cup with a convincing 7-3 aggregate thumping of Egypt.

    Former Black Stars skipper Stephen Appiah said the former Asante Kotoko defender is the man to lead the country to greater glory in Brazil.

    "Over the period his team (players) have shown a lot of commitment to him," he said. "I think it is a good sign which will lead to many more successes. There is more motivation in the team. This is a group leader".

    In Brazil, the four-time African champions are drawn against Germany, Portugal and USA in Group G. Ghana reached the round of 16 on their debut at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and four years ago in South Africa, they equalled the best African performance by getting to the quarter-finals. Appiah, a defensive midfielder who captained Ghana during his five-year stint with the national team, said his team will not suffer any inferiority complex against his fancied rivals.

    "We play Germany, USA and Portugal in our group, but we did get this far and we can't underrate or overrate any team, the game has come of age and it's any man's game," he said. "All teams in our group are strong, but we can't fear them because our qualification demonstrates our ability and potential. If you have qualified for the World Cup and you fear your opponents, then you might as well not go for the competition," he said.

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    Essien: Our strength is our depth

    When the world's attention turns to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ next month, Michael Essien will be making his second appearance on the biggest stage, but many question marks surround the AC Milan midfielder. Still considered an automatic choice for Ghana's Black Stars when healthy and available, the former Chelsea star has struggled with injuries and playing time over the last few years, and at 31 years old, he is eyeing the end of his career.

    However, after missing the last World Cup with a knee problem, Essien tells FIFA.com about his excitement with the talented Ghana team, which he goes out of his way to laud. “The squad for this tournament is the best Ghana has to offer, and the quality in depth is extremely good, especially in midfield. We have multiple options in most positions which is always a plus for any side.”

    The former Lyon dynamo, nicknamed the “Bison” for his incredible strength and his ability to dominate a match from box-to-box, is wary of making the prediction that Ghanaians want to hear: that they will do one better than in South Africa and finally become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup. It seems a wise position given their brutal draw into Group G with Germany, Portugal and USA.

    “Our initial aim will be to get out of the group into the second round, and then take it from there game by game. Who knows? We are certainly capable of going one better and making it to the semi-finals or even finals. Anything can happen, but we are realistic enough to know we cannot aim that high from the start. Get the first objective of making the second round out of the way, and we will see how far we can go. It will be a journey without doubt, one we are looking forward to.”

    Incredible growth
    Perhaps befitting a player of his experience, Essien looks back fondly at the growth of Ghanaian football over the last decade – a time when the Black Stars reached their first finals in 2006 and then came within Asamoah Gyan's missed penalty of reaching the last four in 2010. “I think we have done well for a nation that made its debut on the world stage in 2006. We did okay in our first outing and went one further in South Africa, and that says a lot about the players and the nation as a whole. Our desire to do well spurred us on in both World Cups, and I think it is fair to say we have done better than some of the nations who have been to three or more World Cups.

    “Germany 2006 was very good, and we had a great time throughout the tournament. We were a young, talented group with no World Cup experience and in some way that helped us because we were fearless and had nothing to lose. Throughout the qualifiers we played very well and bonded as a team, as brothers. When we got to Germany we were ready to deliver and we did our best. I am proud to be one of the first players to be at Ghana’s first World Cup.”

    However, Essien is still obviously disappointed at missing out in 2010. “It was tough especially because it was Africa’s first World Cup. More importantly the 2006 team had matured with new players injected into the team from the U-20 World Cup-winning team in Egypt a year earlier, so we were probably in better shape and more experienced to do well than in 2006. That proved to be the case, so I would have loved to be there.”

    Long may he run
    Essien beat the deadline to make a surprise switch from Chelsea to AC Milan on the final day of the transfer window in January, and the midfielder insists he is happy at his new home despite limited playing time and a poor season for the Italian giants. “Milan is good, and I am settling in nicely, which is important. Everyone is friendly at the club and are looking after me well, so I cannot complain. We are all working as a team to bring the club to where it belongs, and with time, I have no doubt the glory days will be back.”

    The midfielder is less sure about his international future, saying: “If I suffer no further big injuries, continue to play well and continue to be selected for the Black Stars, then who knows ... I may be at another World Cup. After [Brazil] it will be business as usual: back to playing club football and if selected for the national team, I will carry on. There are African Cup qualifiers and the 2015 tournament in January, so that will be the next objective.”

    Beyond that, the iconic figure is taking it as it comes. “I do not think coaching is for me and as it stands now I have no plans of taking up coaching after football. You never say never obviously, but currently it is not part of my plans.

    “I am lucky as well as proud to have and to still be playing for the best clubs in the world. All in all, I have not done badly and long may it continue.”

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    Trio miss out as Ghana finalise squad

    Jerry Akaminko, Jeffrey Schlupp and David Accam failed to make the final cut as Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah named his 23-man squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

    Eskisehirspor defender Akaminko picked up an ankle injury during the closing stages of the friendly defeat to Holland on Saturday and is out for three months, while Leicester defender Schlupp and Helsingborg midfielder Accam also miss out from the original 26-man selection.

    Appiah's final squad includes 16 players contesting their first World Cup, but there is plenty of experience elsewhere, with captain Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari preparing for their third finals and Jonathan Mensah, Michael Essien, Kwadwo Asamoah, Andre Ayew and Kevin-Prince Boateng about to contest their second.

    Ghana travel to Miami for the final stages of their build up to Brazil, with one more friendly to come against fellow finalists South Korea on 9 June. Their World Cup Group G campaign kicks off against the United States on June 16, before meetings with Germany and Portugal.

    Ghana squad:

    Goalkeepers: Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates), Adam Kwarasey (Stromsgodset), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars)
    Defenders: Samuel Inkoom (Platanias), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege), Harrison Afful (Esperance), John Boye (Rennes), Jonathan Mensah (Evian), Rashid Sumalia (Mamelodi Sundowns)
    Midfielders: Michael Essien (AC Milan), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Christian Atsu (Vitesse Arnhem), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan)
    Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes), Jordan Ayew (Sochaux).

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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    Ayew & Ayew prepare to share the stage

    Abedi Ayew, known popularly as Abedi Pele, was undoubtedly one of the finest footballers ever to come out of Africa. During a career spanning some 20 years, the attacking midfielder won the UEFA Champions League with Marseille, the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana and was named African Player of the Year on three occasions. The one thing that was denied him was a spot at the FIFA World Cup™ finals as the Black Stars did not qualify until 2006 – eight years after his international retirement. However, the great one has been well represented by his progeny as three of his sons - Andre, Ibrahim and Jordan - have played for the Black Stars and each have now gone to a World Cup finals with the side. While the eldest of the trio Ibrahim was an unused member of the 2010 squad, midfielder Andre starred in South Africa and figures to be a force for the west Africans in Brazil; where Jordan has every chance of seeing his fair share of minutes up front.

    Ghana faced Germany in the group phase and the USA in the Round of 16 in South Africa and will come up against the same two opponents, as well as Portugal, in Group G at the finals this time around. It's a brutal task, but 24-year-old Andre says the side are up for the challenge. "I think it’s a great opportunity to be at the World Cup, and the tough group just makes it more exciting to play in the tournament," said the Marseille playmaker. "We are not favourites in the group, but when we come out of it, we will make Ghanaians happy. We have the quality and the mentality.

    "What matters most is for all to be fit. All the teams are tough and we cannot underestimate any of them. Everyone says we are going to beat the USA. We beat them in 2006 and 2010 and you can be sure that for that reason, they will want to avenge those defeats now, and that makes it dicey.” For younger brother Jordan, Brazil will be the first time that he has made the Black Stars squad for a global tournament, and the 22-year-old is particularly pleased that he will share the experience with his older brother and Marseille teammate.

    “It’s a good feeling to be in the Ghana team with my brother because I haven’t played a big tournament like the World Cup before," Jordan said. "In 2010, I watched him at home. Now I am here with him in the same team.” Jordan has fond memories of playing on the same international team with Andre in 2012 when they both made the Black Stars squad for the AFCON in Gabon, where the the Ghanaians finished fourth.

    “But the best moment in playing with my brother in the same team was when he scored a hat-trick and I scored one goal in the same game (during Marseille's 4-2 win against Nice in April 2011). It was the happiest moment I shared with him,” he said. In the same season, the club came very close to winning the league, but were beaten into second place by Lille. For Jordan it remains a low point of his career. “Losing the league title in 2010/11 must have been the most difficult moment for us both together," he recalls.

    At the beginning of this year, it appeared as if a seat on the plane to Brazil was well beyond the reach of the youngest of the footballing brothers. While Andre was getting regular playing-time with Marseille throughout the 2013/14 season, Jordan was being used mainly as a late substitute. A loan switch to Sochaux saw Jordan make 16 starts in 17 Ligue 1 appearances and impress national team coach Kwesi Appiah enough to be selected for Brazil 2014. Jordan credits Sochaux coach Herve Renard, who took Zambia to success at the 2012 AFCON tournament, for playing a major part in a season that saw him score five league goals for Les Lionceaux.

    "I had a good season with them and it was my target to play at the World Cup and everything went well,” Jordan said.“The playing time and the confidence of the coach made my season that successful."

    Ghana face South Korea in Miami tonight in their final game before making the journey to Brazil ahead of their opening game of the tournament against USA on June 16. A tournament where Jordan, like his brother Andre, hope to achieve something that was denied to their famous father - finding the net at the World Cup finals.

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    Ayew treble sparks Ghana over Korea Republic

    Jordan Ayew scored three goals and Asamoah Gyan netted another on Monday in his return to the starting line-up as Ghana blanked South Korea 4-0 in a FIFA World Cup™ warm-up match. Ayew opened the scoring in the 11th minute, followed with another goal in the 53rd minute and completed the hat-trick in the 89th minute.

    Gyan, the former Sunderland striker, scored in the 44th minute. He had been among reserves earlier in Ghana's World Cup tune-ups but was among 10 players moved into the starting line-up for the Black Stars. Ghana will open World Cup Group G play on 16 June against USA. The Black Stars knocked the Americans out of the World Cup in the Round of 16 in 2010 at South Africa and with a group-stage victory over them in 2006 at Germany.

    Ghana will also face Germany in Portugal in other Group G matches at Brazil.

    Korea Republic will try to bounce back from the drubbing in Brazil, with a Group H opener 17 June against Russia. The Koreans will also meet Algeria and Belgium in first-round matches.

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    Mensah: USA will be out for revenge

    Jonathan Mensah was, in March 2010, looking forward to a barbecue in Accra to watch his compatriots at the 19th FIFA World Cup™. A few injuries meant the teenager was 3,000 miles south-east when it transpired. A few more meant those in attendance were watching him start for Ghana in their 2-1 win over USA in the Round of 16. Mensah now has not only that experience on sport’s biggest stage, but time in Spain, Italy and France, where he now plays for Evian, in his locker as the Ghana prepare to begin their Brazilian adventure with an American reunion in Natal.

    FIFA spoke to the 23-year-old, who helped Ghana unexpectedly beat Brazil in the FIFA U-20 World Cup final in 2009, about the Blacks Stars' showdown with the Stars and Stripes and their targets for the tournament.

    FIFA: Jonathan, how confident are you that Ghana can qualify from Group G?
    Jonathan Mensah: The expectation back home is high. Everybody wants us to make sure we prove ourselves once again in the World Cup. We have been rated as underdogs in the group, which we are happy about. For the past four, eight years, we have been written about as underdogs, but we always prove people wrong. But this time we don't know what is going to happen and we're just waiting for the first game.

    So it suits you being underdogs then?
    Yes, we're happy to be underdogs. We respect that, statistically, the teams in our group are really high-profile, more so than Ghana, and we do respect that. But we're here and we're more focused on our game. And we're here to prove everybody wrong once again.

    Germany and Portugal are obviously the favourites.
    Yes, they are favourites, and we are happy to be underdogs, as I said earlier. Football doesn't depend on names anymore; it depends on how you play on the field and as a team. It's not about individuals. I think our strongest point is the unity in the camp, so we've got confidence we can achieve our aim in this year's World Cup.

    How crucial is that first game against USA?
    It’s going to be like a revenge [match] for the United States, because we beat the United States in 2006 and we beat them in 2010. And once again we're playing them in the first game. For the first game of the competition, everybody is focused and nervous, so it's going to make the game very, very interesting.

    Who do you think are your biggest rivals in Group G?
    I would say the United States, because, as I said earlier, they are out for revenge because we beat them twice. And it's going to be the first game of the competition, so everybody will be expecting something better from Ghana and from the United States as well. So it's going to make the game very interesting. It's a difficult game, but we'll try as much as possible to win.

    Ghana reached the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010. Is the target to get there again or even go further?
    Yes. For now we're taking it game by game. One game after each other, to make sure we qualify from the group stages before we start thinking ahead. For now, I think the group stages are the most important thing now. So we're just making sure we concentrate on the group stages and making sure we qualify for the next stage.

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    Gyan: It’s time to focus

    Conceding a goal after 30 seconds undoes the best-laid of plans and conceding another after 86 minutes leaves you with little time to react, as Ghana found to their cost on their Group G debut against USA on Monday. “That early goal we conceded killed us,” Black Stars captain Asamoah Gyan told FIFA.com. “It totally changed our gameplan and put us on edge. We were the better side, though. We dominated the game and we managed to pull level. I thought we deserved to win, and we were looking for the winner when they scored their second. But, then again, that’s football.”

    To lose in such a way was a bitter pill for Akwasi Appiah’s side to swallow, as a resigned Gyan explained: “We are very down but it just wasn’t our day. We created a lot of chances and we couldn’t score. Our problem was a lack of focus. USA didn’t create that much danger. They only had two chances.”

    Down but not out
    “We hope to be more focused in our next match. We’ve got time and we’re professionals,” said the Al Ain striker, looking ahead to Saturday’s make-or-break meeting with Germany, a game in which he believes Ghana will stick to pretty much to the same gameplan as they adopted against the Americans. As far as Gyan is concerned, the key to Ghana’s future success is concentration and shaking off the nerves that always surface on the big occasion, even for a side that reached the last eight at South Africa 2010.

    “We need to sit down, take a long hard look at our errors and work hard,” explained the 28-year-old forward. “We have to regain our focus and not let nerves get the better of us. It’s going to be a difficult match but we need to stick together more than ever and play our game.” He added: “Germany are the group favourites and their morale will be high after beating a team of the calibre of Portugal 4-0. We won’t be feeling quite so good but we’ll be determined to do ourselves justice.” Signing off in defiant fashion, Gyan said: “I can’t say what’s going to happen but football always throws up a lot of surprises.”

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    Asamoah: Let me attack

    Kwadwo Asamoah has appealed to Ghana's coach Kwesi Appiah to put him back in a more attacking role ahead of a key FIFA World Cup™ clash against Germany. Asamoah, Ghana's footballer of the year for the past two years, was devastated by the Black Stars' 2-1 defeat by the United States on Monday. The 25-year-old was used as a left-sided defender in a loose 4-2-3-1 formation that did not work in the Group G clash. He has found it difficult to change from his normal role at Juventus as a wingback in a 3-5-2 formation.

    "I'm the kind of player who attacks a lot. My style is different, I'm not a typical defender," the Juventus midfielder told AFP. With World Cup survival probably hinging on Saturday's game against an ominously strong looking Germany, Asamoah feels he is being underused. "I attack, try to dribble one-on-one and make crosses and shots," added Asamoah. "I'm not a left back. And I'm finding it difficult because I'd like to show what I'm capable of and show that I can do more."

    Asamoah is primarily known for surging runs up and down the left flank that allow him to help out in defence while creating goalscoring opportunities for Juventus stars Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. He scored only two league goals last season, but one was a screamer from just inside the area that gave Juventus a precious 1-0 win over Fiorentina. Appiah has set a target of Ghana reaching the semi-finals in Brazil. They made the quarter finals in 2010 in South Africa having been beaten 2-0 by Germany in the group stage. But that looks a tall order after the defeat to the United States and Germany's crushing 4-0 win over Portugal. Defeat on Saturday would almost certainly mean the end of the campaign.

    Ghana's mediocre performance against the United States was followed by reports that the squad was upset by unpaid bonuses. After the game, Appiah played down suggestions, spread by social media, that there was unrest in the camp. "I'm surprised to hear this," he said. "I mean, fine. Some of the money hasn't been paid yet, but...if you look at the performance today, it's got nothing to do with money. We created a lot of chances but we didn't take them," according to the coach.

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    Boateng: We'll fight to the death

    Ghana's Berlin-born midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng has turned up the heat for Saturday's FIFA World Cup™ Group G match against Germany by comparing it to a gladiator-style 'fight to the death'. "It's like in ancient Rome. There will be people around the pitch who want to see how two teams fight," the Schalke 04 star told German magazine Sport Bild. "The team who wants it more will win and we will fight to the death against Germany."

    Boateng opted to play for Ghana, the country of his father, in 2009 and will be up against his half-brother and Germany right-back Jérôme Boateng in Fortaleza. Germany top their group after Monday's 4-0 hammering of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, while Ghana are third after their 2-1 defeat to the USA the same day. The flamboyant ex-Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan star has criticised the Germans in the past, saying Joachim Low's squad lacks "characters and leaders" when the going gets tough. "Whenever things matter, they don't make it," he added.

    But the 27-year-old says he has no worries about his words being used as motivation against him. "Low can hang these sentences on the wall with pleasure," insisted Boateng. "This isn't a game-related opinion, more like something fundamental."

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