Tuesday 04 October 2016, 19:41

Ghana's confidence trick pays off

"Yes, we have suffered a bad defeat. But I promise you: we will come back. And we will come back stronger. We will win against USA."

When Evans Adotey delivered these words, fresh from watching his side being thumped 5-0 by Japan, more than a few quizzical looks were exchanged. Was he genuine? Or, given how comprehensively outclassed his side had been, was this simply an empty show of bravado? After all, USA had arguably been just as impressive as Japan in dealing out a thrashing of their own against Paraguay.

Adotey, though, clearly knew better than those who raised eyebrows at his bullish declaration. "Today you saw the real Ghana," he toldFIFA.com after watching the Black Maidens claim a thoroughly deserved 2-1 win over the highly-fancied Americans. All the same, he was honest enough to admit that his guarantee of a victory over the Stars & Stripes had an ulterior psychological motive.

"That promise and everything since the Japan game has been about psyching ourselves up," he explained. "The players needed to believe they could win and it wasn't easy building them up again. Confidence is so important in football and it takes a knock when you lose 5-0. Psyching them up was hard work.

"What motivated them more than anything, I think, was knowing: lose today and we're out. And I must say that, when we went down 1-0, I was really happy with the mental strength I saw in my players. The fighting spirit really came up in them today. I said to them at half-time, 'We are going to score here.' The goal had been coming. And even when we equalised, I was shouting from the side: 'Please - we can win here!'"

I was really happy with the mental strength I saw in my players. The fighting spirit really came up in them today.

If there was one matter on which Adotey was even more confident than his side's ability to beat USA, it was that his captain, Sandra Owusu-Ansah, would tuck away her decisive penalty. "Oh, I had no doubts there," he said. "As soon as we got that penalty, I knew she would score. She is not even fully fit right now but she is mentally tough and that counts for a lot."

But what of the Black Maidens skipper herself? Surely, with the stakes so high, she couldn't have faced the situation as nervelessly as her coach? "Honestly, I didn't feel apprehensive at all," she insisted. "I felt happy and very confident. I knew I was going to put us 2-1 up and that we would go on to win."

Owusu-Ansah also contributed a great deal more than that match-winning spot-kick. Along with Player of the Match Adizatu Mustapha, she was the driving force in a Ghana side that dominated their American opponents throughout a one-sided second half.

"She's my leader and so important for us creatively," said Adotey. "We changed our tactics a little today to get her more involved in our attacking play and it made a difference. Sandra is, I have no hesitation in saying it, my best player."

High praise indeed, and yet it was fully justified by the manner in which Owusu-Ansah - a veteran of Ghana's Costa Rica 2014 campaign - led by example when the Black Maidens fell behind in the fifth minute. So what drove her on when the odds seemed heavily stacked against her embattled team?

"Personally, I couldn't stand the thought of this team going out at this stage - because I knew my name would be mentioned as the leader of a team that had failed," she said. "I hate losing so much and I am very determined to be a successful Ghana captain. Like the rest of the girls, I had to stay mentally strong today. Now we have to beat Paraguay to get through, and I promise you that we will be ready for it."

If today proved anything, it's that keeping promises is a Ghanaian speciality.