On Tuesday, Ghana will begin their quest to end a 35-year trophy drought and overturn what has been a rather sprawling series of disappointments at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Black Stars will play in Group D alongside Uganda, Mali and Egypt at the Gabon 2017.
In the Ghana dugout will be Spaniard Gerard Nus, one of two assistants to head coach Avram Grant. Nus makes a return for his second Afcon after playing the same role as the Black Stars reached the final of the 2015 Afcon.
Goal caught up with the former Liverpool backroom staffer on Ghana’s preparations for the 31st Africa Cup of Nations underway in Gabon.
The Black Stars spent 12 days training in the United Arab Emirates for this tournament. What exactly did the team work on over this period?
It was so good to be in Dubai, the facilities are very good and the whole team was really committed to this training. It was positive, things worked quite well and there will not be excuses at all now; we just need to perform - starting from the first game. We worked on many things – physically, for those who have not played many games [at club level] to be ready for the first game. We worked on tactics and any other thing that any national team will need to improve on. We played one friendly game [a 2-0 win over Uzbek club side Bunyodkor], so we saw our level, what we had to improve, how good we can be, how we could be beaten and many other things.
A lot of people in Ghana have not been happy with the fact that the Black Stars played only one friendly and that it was even against a club side.
From my experience, preparations are always different. Sometimes, you play a lot of games, sometimes you do a lot of training. As I said, I don’t think there is any room for excuses. We could have played more or less, but at the end of the day, it was good. We had enough days to work on a lot of things and we need to be happy with how the preparations went. They [players] are in a good level and we just need to focus on the first game. In our training sessions, we play 11 against 11 and of course it’s not the same as playing against another side, but you still get a lot of positive things because we had two good XI’s against each other. With that said, I’m not in charge of deciding which teams we play. I’m into the coaching aspect.
How ready are the Black Stars to face Uganda?
I think we’re ready. We believe we had a good preparation in Dubai. We have already played them [Uganda, in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers], and we also saw their last friendly matches. So all this will help us to prepare for them.
In selecting the final 23-man squad, coach Avram Grant dropped in-form players such Abdul Majeed Waris and Raphael Dwamena for Jordan Ayew and Asamoah Gyan, who comparatively lesser number of goals combined this season. What went into such decisions?
Making decisions on the final selection is not so simple. You need to choose the best players for your team, but what is really the criteria? Someone may be scoring more goals and another person could be scoring less goals but the latter could become more important. The one that scores more may not be in the team because he might not be the kind of player that you need to perform. I’m not saying that we always end up doing the right thing; of course not, because we coaches are human beings and there might be mistakes. There is a big squad and we try to do what is best for the team to perform, to win games and be strong defensively.
You were part of the team at Equatorial Guinea 2015. What kind of lessons did you learn, going into your second tournament?
I learnt many lessons. Now, we know we have to prepare for anything that could happen during the games and beyond the games. We know how challenges could be sometimes – the field conditions, transportation and organization. We always need to be highly prepared and expect anything. Any support from Ghanaians, the fans, the embassy is always welcome. We have to be united and strong because there are many challenges in the Afcon. The only way to go forward is if we all push in the same direction.
Finally, how confident are you that come February 5, the Black Stars will lift the trophy?
Our target is to get the trophy, but it’s going to be difficult. We want to do whatever we can to get it, but also, we need to be respectful. All the other teams are also looking to get the trophy. They also have many good players. We need to be focused. We’ll see after the first game. At the end of the day, I hope that the best team wins, and I hopefully that’s Ghana.