Ghana coach says team can reach knockout phase

Coach Claude le Roy is convinced hosts Ghana will reach the 2008 African Nations Cup quarterfinals after being drawn in Group A with Guinea, Morocco and Namibia.

“I realise expectations are high among Ghanaians and we will surely go through to the knockout phase,” the widely travelled Frenchman told local journalists.

“Let us not talk too much now. Rather let us do our talking on the field come January. A key factor is that our leading players avoid injuries while competing in various European leagues.”

Ghana, Nations Cup winners four times, have built a formidable team around midfielders Stephen Appiah from Turkish club Fenerbahce and Michael Essien of English Premiership outfit Chelsea.

Charismatic Le Roy led Democratic Republic of Congo to the 2006 Nations Cup quarterfinals before switching to the Black Stars, whose last African title came 25 years ago in Libya.

Ghana kick off the three-week tournament with a January 20 clash in Accra against unpredictable Guinea, whose French coach Robert Nouzaret is relishing the chance to humble the hosts.

“Facing Ghana will serve as a major motivation to my players.
I’m delighted that we are involved in this match because it will make for a compelling start to the tournament,” predicted Nouzaret.

Namibia Football Association president John Williams said his country will relish being outsiders in a biennial tournament won a record fifth time last year by hosts Egypt.

“It is always good to be underdogs as all the pressure will be on Ghana, Morocco and Guinea. The ‘Brave Warriors’ are not coming to Ghana to make up the numbers, but to make an impact,” warned Williams.

The largely desert South-West Africa country were shock qualifiers at the expense of DR Congo, snatching a last-minute winner in Ethiopia to grab top spot in a qualifying group by one point.

Nigeria coach and former Germany star Berti Vogts praised 2006 runners-up Côte d’Ivoire and Mali after the trio came together in Group B, the group of death, which is completed by Benin.

“Ivory Coast and Mali are strong teams with talented players and cannot be overlooked when thinking of potential champions. I also have excellent players, but need good preparations to discover the winning touch,” he stressed.

Group C comprises defending champions Egypt, four-time winners Cameroon, Sudan and Zambia while Group D appears wide open with Tunisia, Senegal, South Africa and Angola chasing two knockout slots. - Sapa-AFP

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