BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian Goran Stevanovic believes he can take World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana back to the top of African soccer with a blend of experienced overseas-based players and emerging youngsters.
The 44-year-old, appointed coach last Monday, told Reuters in an interview that he planned to inject fresh blood into an injury-plagued side that went further than any other African nation in last year’s tournament in South Africa.
Ghana were also beaten finalists in last year’s African Nations Cup, a competition the Black Stars last won in 1982, and won the 2009 Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
“That success showed Ghana’s potential and I expect many of those players to peak very soon and earn their place in my squad as we need to inject fresh blood and improve,” he said of the junior side’s triumph.
“I will only include the best players regardless of their age or what club they play for, so I will follow the Ghanaian league as well as candidates for the national team plying their trade abroad.”
Ghana’s leading players include Chelsea’s Michael Essien, Sunderland’s Asamoah Gyan, Inter Milan’s Sulley Muntari and AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng.
All but three members of the 2010 World Cup squad were with overseas clubs.
Stevanovic is the third Serb to coach Ghana since 2006, when Ratomir Dujkovic guided the side to the last 16 of the World Cup in the country’s maiden appearance in the finals.
Milovan Rajevac then succeeded Frenchman Claude Leroy in 2008 and took Ghana to the last eight in South Africa.
“Ghana did exceptionally well under Dujkovic and Rajevac but I am convinced we can play even better football because some of the key players were either half-fit or injured during the 2010 World Cup,” said Stevanovic.
“If Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari can rediscover their best form and be their old selves again, we have a lot to look forward to.”
Midfielder Essien missed the World Cup with a knee injury and has been on a self-enforced break from international duties since then.
Ghana play their first competitive match under Stevanovic in an African Nations Cup qualifier against Congo on March 27 before facing England in a friendly at Wembley two days later.
The new manager, a former Yugoslavia midfielder with good close control and an eye for goal, was confident he could live up to his predecessors.
“They have both left a big pair of shoes to fill but I am confident that I can follow in their footsteps and live up to huge expectations after Ghana’s recent success,” declared the former Partizan Belgrade boss who was sacked in the latter stages of last season.
”They made a big impact here and my endorsement shows that the Ghanaians have a lot of faith in the quality of the Serbian coaching culture.
“My first impression is that the Ghanaian mentality is very similar to Serbian and it should make it that much easier for me to attain the high standards I have set to myself and the team,” added the manager.
“We want to win the African Nations Cup finals in 2012 and 2013 and I think it’s realistic because Ghana have the natural talent to achieve that.”