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GHANA, THIS IS YOUR TIME! – STEVANOVIC

By NBF News

Ghana's Coach Goran Stevanovic says the huge expectation on his team to win the Nations Cup this year is not necessarily pressure but a huge challenge. The Serbian is hoping to become the first foreign coach to lead Ghana to Nations Cup glory against a wave of massive expectation back home.

While some have warned that the expectation could become negative pressure on the Black Stars, Stevanovic says his side will thrive on that. “A lot of people ask me why I talk so much about the trophy. For me, it is no pressure,” the Serbian says. “It is just a challenge because if you have a lot of confidence you need to let people know it. It is challenge to be able to compete and win trophy. That is not pressure.

“I understand pressure the other way. If you don't have quality and want to become champion, that is pressure. But if you have quality and want to become champion, that is a challenge.”

Stevanovic reckons Senegal and Ivory Coast are the biggest threat to Ghana, but says there could be a lot of surprises. He also claims the fact that the like of Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt are not around at the 2012 Nations Cup is evidence that African football has grown in leaps and bounds.

After all the talk, this is the now. Over the last few months, a lot has been said and written about Ghana's Nations Cup hopes. Next Tuesday in the Gabonese city of Franceville, the players will have to prove that it is not just all talk, but that they can back it up with action. On Sunday evening, after his side had played out a 1-1 draw against what we are told was a third string South African side, Coach Stevanovic spoke with a measure of confidence that would have impressed his strongest critics.

'There was nothing like we will try our best.' It was the most emphatic show of confidence from the Serbian since he was signed up to become Ghana's coach with a promise to end 30 years of hurt and pain over failure to become African champion. 'I have been a Ghana football nut all my life. From watching Nii Odartey Lamptey-inspired victory at the 1991 World Under-17 Championships on black and white television, to sitting in the stands, tears in my eyes as the Black Stars emerged in Hannover, Germany for their World Cup bow.

'For long this country has lived its football dreams, had many highs and many lows too. At some point, the obsession was with qualifying for the World Cup. Two appearances in Germany and South Africa that all of us can be proud of, has left us wanting more than just World Cup appearances. 'Now the obsession is to become African champions. It has been done four times but never since 1982 in Libya.

That is 30 long years. I did not see that in Libya. But I have seen the pain at first hand that Nations Cup failure can cause. 'Senegal'92 was supposed to be the fifth and it was mighty close. Abedi Ayew Pele wore a ponytail; Tony Yeboah was in his element. Nii Odartey Lamptey was the biggest emerging thing in Ghana's football alongside many youngsters promoted from the World Cup winning Under-17 side.

'Then, there was penalty shootout failure against Ivory Coast. My biggest memory from when Alain Guamene saved from Tony Baffoe on the 11th kick was of the silence that descended on the neighborhood home with a television set powered by a car battery we all gathered around to see the game. 'Afterwards, there was '94 when personal egos ripped the team apart. So scared was this country of Ivory Coast that we vilified Prince Opoku Polly for scoring the goal against Guinea, which set up a quarterfinal meeting against the defending champion. And despite C.K Akunnor scoring an absolute screamer and beauty, we took the early shower.

'In 1996, it was supposed to be our year too. Abedi Pele was still playing great. Tony Yeboah was scoring some incredible goals. And to top that, the Black Stars were so clinical in beating Ivory Coast with Abedi and Yeboah scoring both goals.

'The run up to the semi-finals was pretty smooth until South Africa emerged. They took us apart even though in this side of the world, there are many still miffed about what we thought was a perfect equaliser with Ghana one goal down.

'1998 brought more misery triggered by a first round exit after defeat to Togo.