Although no club from Ghana has ever appeared at the FIFA Club World Cup, a group of Ghanaians could play a big role in Japan later this month. Congo DR side TP Mazembe Englebert secured their fifth CAF Champions League title in November with a 4-1 aggregate victory against USM Alger, and their French coach Patrice Carteron used five players from the west African country in the course of the competition, with four playing in the final itself. FIFA.com spoke to one of them and asked the coach to introduce the five key players ahead of the Club World Cup.
Richard Kissi Boateng worked his way into the Mazembe's first team because of injury but his form won Carteron's trust and a regular place in the first team. His rampaging runs down the left side should catch attention in Japan, where Les Corbeaux have been drawn to play the winner of the match between Auckland City and the J.League champion in the quarter-finals. The 27-year-old defender is confident that Mazembe can hold their own against the other sides, including in a potential match-up with River Plate in the semi-finals. “We have to fear no other clubs," said Boateng. "Of course we will respect our opponents as they are the best teams from their continent, but we do not have to be scared of them.”
Boateng takes strength from playing with his compatriots, but says the group blends well in the multi-national side. “We spend a lot of time together and that makes it easier for all of us being in a foreign country. There is obviously a very good understanding on the field as well, although there is a good understanding throughout the team.”
The defender's optimism is not without reason given Mazembe became the first non-European or South American club to qualify for the final of the Club World Cup after stunning Copa Libertadores champions Internacional in the 2010 semi-final. They lost the championship match against Inter Milan, but the African champions proved they could stand up to the big boys. “Why should we not repeat that success, or even go one better?” Boateng asks. “We have the structure, and we have the players. We have a lot of international experience, so I think we will certainly not travel to Japan to make up the numbers.”
Boateng joined the Lubumbashi-based team after an impressive performance in the Champions League with surprise Ghanaian packages Berekum Chelsea in 2012. In the group stages that year, the new team named after the London-based club faced Mazembe, and Boateng was one of the stars for his side in a shock win, prompting the Congo DR team to secure his signature.
Now he is hoping that a similar boost on the global stage will aid his aspirations to return to the Black Stars' fold. Although he was a member of Ghana's squad at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, Boateng featured only in the third-place match against Mali. “I can only play as well as I can, and playing at the Club World Cup should help my chances.”
French coach Carteron played as a defender at a high level in Europe for over a decade, and the 45-year-old is best known in Africa for coaching Mali at the AFCON in 2013. He joined Mazembe shortly after and has taken the cosmopolitan side from strength to strength, building their depth with a blend of youth and experience. Here are the coach's assessment of his 'Ghanaian block'.
On Yaw Frimpong: "He is a right fullback who excels in offensive play with a real ability to pierce the opposition's lines. He has also improved a lot defensively. Yaw realised that the balance of the team was indispensable. He reminds me of the Brazilian defenders like Dani Alves or Cafu."
On Richard Boateng: "He took advantage of an injury to Jean Kasusula and established himself on the left side of defence. He's an aggressive player, also versatile as he can play as a left midfielder or left winger. He must be more consistent, but the games he has played with the Ghana national team have made him much more mature."
On Daniel Adjei: "He is a playmaker in front of the defence. He is active, tactically intelligent. Daniel has a great passing ability, long or short. Technically, he is very interesting and can advance forward quickly. He is a kind of metronome for the team, but must learn how to have one good performance after another. He is also a very likeable person."
On Solomon Asante: "His nickname is El Diablo. He is a whirlwind with a small frame and a low centre of gravity. He is an intelligent player, a true leader on the field and in the locker room. He was better last year as his form has sometimes been poor, both mentally and physically, this term."
On Gladson Awako: "He is a real 'number 10', with excellent technique and a good vision of the game. He reminds me of Alain Giresse. He should figure in Japan, but he must show more mental strength as he could also become a leader."