Fifty-one minutes into an afternoon assignment in Fortaleza, few would have given Ghana a hope of reaching the Round of 16. They had lost their opener to Group G outsiders USA. Now they had fallen behind to Germany, a team accustomed to turning one-goal leads into thrashings.
The Black Stars are made of stern stuff, however, and quick-fire goals from Andre Ayew and Asamoah swung them ahead, before Miroslav Klose grabbed the three-time FIFA World Cup™ winners a 2-2 draw.
That, coupled with Portugal’s 2-2 draw with USA, left Ghana in with realistic chances of reaching the knockout phase. If Kwesi Appiah’s side beat Portugal in Brasilia, and the USA-Germany game doesn’t end all square, the Africans can advance on goal difference.
FIFA caught up with Jonathan Mensah to discuss Ghana’s display against Germany, why they are slow starters in matches, the importance of Gyan, his new partnership with John Boye, and the clash with Portugal.
FIFA: What did you make of Ghana’s performance against Germany?
Jonathan Mensah: It was brilliant, it was one of our best performances, and that is why we drew the game. We didn’t lose, so that was a good result. We were playing against the second-best team [on the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking – it’s not easy. But we were ready for the game and we did our best. We did better than we did in the first game, when we made a slow start, so it was a good performance.
You mention Ghana getting off to a bad start against USA. You also got off to slow starts in the recent friendly losses to Montenegro and the Netherlands. What do you put that down to?
I don’t know. Maybe we don’t warm up properly. Probably. It’s not just one or two players, but the whole team. These [slow starts] always happen.
Asamoah Gyan was on target against Germany. How important is he to Ghana?
He’s the captain of the team. And he’s always present whenever we need him. And he did it again. So he is such a great leader, a great striker, and we are happy to have him in the team.
Qualification is no longer in your hands. How will you approach the game against Portugal?
We are going into the game with this full mentality: we want to win, we don’t care about the other result, because at the end of the day we are playing, so we just go out there and just win this game. The outcome of the other game is going to be [crucial], but we’re just looking at us first.
Do you get the feeling that, especially in the German game, the neutral fans are really behind Ghana, that all the Brazilian fans have really warmed to you?
I think so, because when we started the game it was the Germans that scored the first goal, and the crowd was behind them. But after we pushed for the equaliser and we went [2-1] up, then I saw that all the Brazilian fans were for us too.
A lot of people were worried about Ghana’s defence after Jerry Akaminko withdrew from the squad due to injury, but you and John Boye have really gelled…
I’ve played with him quite some time now, and we try and be solid each and every game. We’re doing quite well. But I’m not going to say that’s the best performance so far, because we’ve conceded four goals in our last two games, and we’re just hoping to do better than we’ve done in the previous games.
All four of those goals were from set-pieces. Have you been working on this?
We’re working on it each and every day at training. We’re well are that the goals were from set-pieces and we’re doing everything to put it right.
Is there still belief in the camp that you can go through?
Yes, there’s still belief, because we just need to win. We’re not thinking about the other result, because anything can happen, so we’re just focussing on us.