By RON FANFAIR
Ghana is the first African nation to qualify for next year’s soccer World Cup finals in South Africa after shutting out Sudan 2-0 in Accra last weekend.
Michael Essien, who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League, and Inter Milan mid-field player Sulley Muntari scored in each half to boost Ghana to its fourth win in as many matches in the group that also includes Mali and Benin which played to a 1-1 draw.
“It was so important for us to win, regardless of how we achieved the result,” said Essien. “It is still special for us professionals to return home and bring joy to the people of Ghana. “Teamwork brought us success as in previous qualifiers. The side did not feel under pressure because we are used to playing in front of packed crowds like the one in Accra tonight.
“The people of Ghana wanted us to win and we did not let them down. What a fantastic feeling to be the first African country to qualify for the first World Cup to be staged in Africa.”
Serbian-born coach Milovan Rajevac said it’s a priceless honour for his players to represent their country and also qualify for soccer’s biggest competition.
“The team is very hungry to go to the finals again,” he said. “My players are aware of what they can achieve and have the quality to go far. I have always believed we would qualify and am very confident about the future…This is my greatest success as a coach and I hope there are going to be many more.”
Four-time African champions Ghana made its World Cup debut in 2006 in Germany, defeating the Czech Republic and the United States in the first round before being eliminated by Brazil which is the top ranked side in international soccer.
In other African qualifiers last weekend, the Ivory Coast moved a step closer towards advancing to the final after demolishing Burkina Faso 5-0. The Ivory Coast just needs a point from its last two matches to secure a spot.
Cameroon scored twice in the space of three minutes to shut out Gabon 2-0 and Tunisia held Nigeria to a 2-2 draw to hold on to a two-point lead in their group that also comprises Mozambique which edged Kenya 1-0 while Morocco and Togo drew 1-1.
Five African teams will represent Africa at next year’s 32-team World Cup.
In addition to Ghana, Australia, Brazil, Japan, The Netherlands, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Korean Republic and host country South Africa have already booked their places for the finals.
Trinidad & Tobago, meanwhile, fell 4-1 to Honduras last week to fall out of contention for a place in the finals. The Soca Warriors hosted the United States last night which, along with Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica, are vying for three spots.
The twin-island republic made its World Cup debut in Germany three years ago, becoming just the second English-speaking Caribbean team to take part in the finals after Jamaica in France in 1998.