Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan on what the Nations Cup means to him, the Black Stars? chances and his first memory of the tournament.
The Africa Cup of Nations is like a tradition for us Africans and everybody is desperate to see the games and follow the teams. The fans love football with a real passion back home in Africa. During this tournament fans support their teams with all their heart, and they do everything for it, which makes this game so special to us Africans.
Do you remember the first time you were watching Africa Cup of Nations on television as a kid?
Yes, I do remember ? it was in 1994. I watched Ghana play, but I think they lost against Ivory Coast. The tournament made a huge impact on me as a kid; to see what it meant to the people of Ghana was very inspiring for me.
What did it mean to the people? What did it mean to you?
It has always meant a lot to the Ghanaians, but back then I didn?t really know much about it, I didn?t follow the game. Of course I watched it, but I didn?t listen to the news. What I remember is that I watched great players like Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah, who were amazing players at that time and I admired them a lot. Seeing them on television made people happy, and it made me happy.
So it brought up a lot of positive emotions?
Yes, it brought a lot of positive emotions. That is why anytime I am on television, like when I play at the Africa Cup of Nations, I try to do it like them to bring back these positive feelings to the fans.
Now that you?re the captain and play for the Black Stars, there?s a wonderful unity and bond within the Ghana team. How important is this bond that gets you closer to your teammate to help you perform on the pitch?
Yes, I think we are one of the most united international teams. Every time we are in competition we forget about the game and we make ourselves happy by playing football. It doesn?t mean we don?t concentrate on the game, because every time we go on the field we are concentrated and focused on the match. But we try to take pressure off ourselves, to not think too much about the opponent we are playing against. This is what motivates us to play a match, and anytime we go on the field we demonstrate it to the people who are watching us, because the Ghanaian team is simply fun. In my opinion Ghana is one of the teams that is good, because the unity and the team spirit is there.
You?re working with a new head coach now, Kwesi Appiah, a former Black Star captain himself. How do you find working with him so far?
He is a great man; back home everybody knows him as a gentleman. He has worked with the team for quite a long time and he knows the different qualities of the individual players. When he was appointed as the head coach it seemed like a logical decision as he has a great insight into what player can achieve. Also, the players know him and the kind of person he is. He is a man who can take responsibility, which is basically what a coach needs. Since he took over everyone is happy and we are doing what he wants, in a tactical way, and we try to make sure we abide by what he says.
Who do you consider to be the strongest team at the Africa Cup of Nations?
There are many strong teams; the strongest teams from all over Africa are coming together in South Africa this year. Ivory Coast, Morocco, Zambia and Tunisia are coming. All lot of teams that are participating have proven that they can come out as a winner. It is not going to be an easy tournament.
Traditionally African football is unpredictable because the outcome is totally different each year. What do you feel you have to do as a team to win this tournament?
I think we do have high quality players, but what we also need to succeed is the right focus, dedication and hard work. I think if we have these three things, we can really go far, because we have the quality, so we just need to be determined to fight. We have to concentrate and make sure we work hard.
How would an AFCON victory be compared with other highlights in your career?
I think it would change a lot, maybe not for me personally, but in general it would change a lot of things in the careers of many players because it has been a while since we lifted the cup and everybody in Ghana is expecting us to bring the trophy home. If we manage to win the Cup, we are going to make history. It would be a very big thing for us as a team and for Ghana as a country as well. I am praying to God for this to happen.
To hear more from Asamoah Gyan, Ghana and other players and teams who will feature in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations go to www.puma.com/africanfootball