Q&A: Ghana captain Ayew on team’s chances at Qatar World Cup
Ghana’s captain tells Al Jazeera about the team’s preparation and chances at the World Cup as well as the determination he wants from his players.
Doha, Qatar – Ghana’s national football team captain Andre Ayew is confident that the Black Stars will be a tough team to beat at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off in Qatar on November 20.
The Ghana squad has to be fit in order to put on the performance he’s hoping for, Ayew, who plays for Al Sadd football club in Qatar’s capital Doha, emphasised.
After missing the 2018 tournament, the Black Stars qualified for this year’s event, where they are in the same group as South Korea, Portugal and Uruguay, the team that knocked them out of the 2010 edition in South Africa.
Al Jazeera spoke to Ayew about the national side’s preparation, chances and expectations, as well as the benefit of his experience playing in Qatar.
Al Jazeera: The World Cup is less than two months away. How is the Black Stars’ preparation?
Ayew: Everything is in place for us to have a successful World Cup. We must have the best preparation possible but, most importantly, all of your players must be fit at that time. We played Brazil, we’ll play Nicaragua and Switzerland before the World Cup. They are all big games that will be tough even though they are friendlies.
These matches are beneficial because we put ourselves to the test and come back as a team to maintain bonding and unity. Normally, we have two to three weeks before the World Cup, but this time we only have about nine days. It’s not ideal but we have to adapt.
Al Jazeera: What are Ghana’s chances of reaching the knockout stage from the so-called “Group of Death”?
Ayew: We have a chance. Nobody sees us as favourites, which is expected. So we know we’re not going into any of the matches as favourites but we’re there to fight and make an impact. No doubt it will be a very difficult group for every team and all we have to do is be ready, focused, determined, full squad and have a bit of luck.
If we have our full squad, we can seriously disrupt a lot of teams. I am not concerned because I know what Ghana is capable of.
Al Jazeera: Will the game between Ghana and Uruguay be a revenge mission after the heartbreak of the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa?
Ayew: As team leader, I don’t believe we should view this game as revenge. Instead, we must be smart enough to recognise that it is a match we need points from. We can’t ignore history, but what Luis Suarez [Uruguay footballer] did is something I could have done in the same situation [used his hand to stop a goal-bound shot in 2010]. It hurt us all. But that’s part of football and it happened years ago.
We just want to win against Uruguay after everything that has been said in the media. As a player, if you go into a game with the intent of retaliation, you can make a lot of mistakes and be hyper. We just need to stay calm, follow the plan and try to win the game, or do whatever we can to advance to the next stage.
Al Jazeera: What are Ghanaians’ expectations of the Black Stars in the World Cup? Can they be met?
Ayew: Ghanaians expect tenacity, determination and a willingness to die for the jersey. When you come to the World Cup, you face super-strong sides and we’ve shown over time that we can compete with them and, in some cases, beat them.
But compete and show that you are willing to die for your country. If it results in a satisfactory outcome, thank God. If it does not, as long as the entire nation feels they have represented the country and Africa in the right way, that is the most important thing for me.
We are in the World Cup not only to showcase Ghanaian football, but Africa as well. Because there are only five African representatives, all teams will receive African support whenever they play and this is how we should always be behind our own fellow brothers in order to make history in this tournament.
During the African Cup of Nations, we are all fighting for our countries, but during the World Cup, we are all fighting for the continent. Also, if we can present a good image of Africa on the field and compete against the top teams, everyone will be pleased.
Al Jazeera: Should Africa have more slots at a World Cup starting from 2026?
Ayew: If we have more teams, that will be fantastic. It’s about time. We have the most countries, but we are underrepresented, and the African qualifiers are always difficult and stressful. We have a lot of big teams, and the expectations are high, so it will be difficult for all of the big teams to qualify with only five slots.
If we can secure more berths, we will have a better chance of seeing an African team reach the semi-finals or even win the World Cup.
Al Jazeera: What are your thoughts on the new players who have switched allegiance to play for the Black Stars? Will they strengthen the team?
Ayew: The players are good, and qualifying for the World Cup makes you very attractive. Why not let the boys come? The door is open for any Ghanaian who wants to play for and help the country, but you must come with the same determination you put into your club, the same desire, and you cannot expect everything in your European club to be the same in the national team because there is a time for the team to adapt.
I fully support them and wish them the best of luck, especially when you come with a strong desire to succeed. When you have the right attitude and desire to sweat for the Ghana jersey, I am more than willing to welcome you, even though I am not the coach but a longtime member of the team.
The newcomers are talented, but we already have a strong team that qualified for the World Cup, so every position is competitive. Apart from senior players who may have an advantage, I believe no one is guaranteed a place in the squad just yet. Everyone must prove their quality on the field and everyone has a chance, giving the coach more options and solutions, formations, and I believe it is beneficial to have new players with the right mentality.