With just one match remaining in the group stage of the African qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Ghana are only a point away from reaching the final round. However, standing in the Black Stars’ way on 6 September are Zambia, who have ambitions of making their first global finals after conquering the continent in 2012.
Veteran Ghanaian Sulley Muntari, who scored twice in seven appearances over Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, doesn’t plan on allowing the Chipolopolo spoil his dream of playing at a third FIFA World Cup – a feat most Africans can only dream of.
“We want to go to Brazil and we are focused on qualifying,” the AC Milan player, who has featured in every qualifier so far, including Zambia’s hard-fought 1-0 defeat of Ghana in June 2013, told FIFA.com. “We are committed to that goal.
“We are ready for them this time. It will be a tough game and we will do our best to win. We are on top of the group, closer to Brazil, and we want to finish it in grand style.”
Ghana dislodged Zambia at the section summit thanks to nine points won from Sudan and Lesotho, but their narrow advantage will not quell nerves about recent history against the southern Africans. Zambia recorded a surprise double over Ghana last year, a semi-final triumph at the CAF
Africa Cup of Nations accompanying a Brazil 2014 qualifying success. Muntari featured in both matches, but the 28-year-old believes the Black
Stars can manage to find more than the necessary draw at home.
“They have troubled us for a long time, have given us sleepless nights,” he said. “But we are ready for them and want to make it big this time. We are poised to plant broad smiles on the faces of Ghanaians in Kumasi.”
The former Udinese, Portsmouth and Inter Milan player believes the potential returns of Michael Essien, Kevin Prince Boateng, Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan to international football will bring the Ghanaians back to their best. The quartet have hinted of a comeback following a variety of self-imposed exiles.
Muntari said: “Andre and Jordan are coming back, so is Boateng. Hopefully Essien will also be back in the team and it will be amazing.”
Rossoneri targets, rebel reputation
Unlike the Ayew duo, who missed out on trips to Sudan and Lesotho in June, Boateng and Essien have played no part in the qualifiers. In the absence of such world-class players, Muntari has stepped up and brought his ample experience to the national team. Along with 80 international appearances over 11 years, he helped Ghana to the final match of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2001, and has also won a pair of Scudetti, a UEFA Champions League and a FIFA Club World Cup with Inter Milan.
In 2012, Muntari made a shock move to Inter’s cross-town rivals AC Milan, and after a couple of solid seasons – they finished third in the 2012/13 Serie A – he is hoping to break his trophy drought with the seven-time European champions this campaign.
“It is such an amazing and united family at Milan,” Muntari explained. “Last season was great and I hope we can do better this term.”
Muntari has often been seen as something of a rebel in Ghanaian football for his outbursts on the pitch. He has been criticised in local media over his bittersweet relationship with officials, but he claims his attitude has never been better. However, against Lesotho in Maseru, he made headlines yet again for a glum gesture over his substitution, an incident which incurred the displeasure of the public.
“If you are substituted at a time you don’t expect, definitely you will react,” he said. “But it is in the past and I have explained my actions to the coach. I have told him how I felt at that time. I never meant to disrespect him.”