Ghana can become world force
2010 has been a hugely successful year for Ghana defender John Pantsil, reaching the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals with his country and the UEFA Europa League final with his club Fulham. Although he ultimately suffered disappointment in both tournaments, Pantsil can reflect on the magnificent achievements of both teams.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Pantsil reveals how far he thinks Ghana can go in world football after their impressive showing in South Africa and provides some insight on the early days of Mark Hughes’s tenure at Fulham.
FIFA.com: What was your personal highlight from the FIFA World Cup?
John Pantsil: I think the performance from everyone was fantastic and it is a great memory that everyone in Ghana and Africa keeps talking about.
Do you think Africa showed what it could achieve by hosting the tournament?
I think Africa did well, they showed the whole world that Africa could hold another World Cup in the near future.
Do you think Ghana is capable of hosting it?
Yes, definitely. Ghana can certainly do what South Africa did because it is a football nation and the people love football. I think it could be even better!
What was it like for you and the team to have the backing of a whole continent?
It was a great feeling. It was my second experience of the World Cup and reaching the quarter-final with the support was a great feeling.
Your FIFA World Cup ended on a sour note with the Uruguay game, so what was your favourite moment from the tournament?
I think when we beat the United States to qualify for the quarter-final, which was great because it was a tough game. We beat them in 2006 so it was great to beat them again and it was a great moment.
First the Round of 16, then the quarter-finals. Do you think Ghana has what it takes to reach the semi-finals in 2014?
I think we will even be able to reach the Final – that’s our expectation in four years’ time. If we have a good mentality and maintain our discipline, as well as qualifying from our group in Africa, we can do well in Brazil in 2014.
Asamoah Gyan played a big part in the FIFA World Cup quarter-final, scoring the winning goal, and has recently moved to the Premier League. How do you think he’ll do in England?
He’s going to do well and I was happy to see him scoring on his debut. He’s a young player and he has a bit to prove in England to show that he deserves to be there, but I think he’s going to get bigger and bigger.
The coach who got you there, Milovan Rajevac has left his post. What was your reaction to hearing the news?
I was shocked to hear that the coach of the Black Stars was moving to Saudi Arabia. We went away to Swaziland to play our first qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations, which we won 3-0, and sadly he changed his mind to join a club side.
You spoke of the Cup of Nations. You are grouped with Swaziland, Sudan and Congo, are you confident of qualifying?
Sure, the most important game was the match in Swaziland. We then need to make sure we win the rest of our home games so we are on top by adding points to the four we already have.
You’ve finished third and second at the Cup of Nations, can you win it next time around?
Yes, it depends on how we position ourselves, how we train and maintain our discipline and team spirit. If we can keep this going I think in Gabon in 2012 we could lift the cup.
When you are with a club with the spirit of Fulham, is it hard to leave them in the middle of a season for an international tournament?
Sometimes it is a bit tricky but it depends on how you are with your team. When I’m training with the boys here I’m happy and if I have to leave it can be hard, but the Africa Cup of Nations has been like that for a long time so I have to bear it.
Fulham made a promising start to season, unbeaten in the first seven league games.
I think we’ve started well and I think that to continue our good start we need to keep the spirit and discipline, as well as the determination which is important, so everyone on the field is helping each other.
When a well-liked manager such as Roy Hodgson leaves it can be difficult, but how was Mark Hughes in the first days?
He made everyone feel at home here, it was like we had been with him for ages. Everyone is happy with the way he talks with the guys, the way he trains with everyone, I think it’s what every player wants. It’s much of the same, nothing really has changed.
What influence did Hodgson have on your career?
He has done a lot for my career. I was at West Ham, not getting enough games, when he bought me and showed people that I was good enough for the Premiership. He was like a father to me; I will always remember he was the man that gave me that chance.
What are Fulham aiming for this season?
Well, two seasons ago we finished seventh so our expectations are very high. Since we have no Europa League matches we need to take our opportunities to get points whenever is possible so we can finish in the top six or seven, I think that should be our aim, to get back into Europe.