Jonathan Mensah was, in March 2010, looking forward to a barbecue in Accra to watch his compatriots at the 19th FIFA World Cup™. A few injuries meant the teenager was 3,000 miles south-east when it transpired. A few more meant those in attendance were watching him start for Ghana in their 2-1 win over USA in the Round of 16.
Mensah now has not only that experience on sport’s biggest stage, but time in Spain, Italy and France, where he now plays for Evian, in his locker as the Ghana prepare to begin their Brazilian adventure with an American reunion in Natal.
FIFA spoke to the 23-year-old, who helped Ghana unexpectedly beat Brazil in the FIFA U-20 World Cup final in 2009, about the Blacks Stars’ showdown with the Stars and Stripes and their targets for the tournament.
FIFA: Jonathan, how confident are you that Ghana can qualify from Group G?
Jonathan Mensah: The expectation back home is high. Everybody wants us to make sure we prove ourselves once again in the World Cup. We have been rated as underdogs in the group, which we are happy about. For the past four, eight years, we have been written about as underdogs, but we always prove people wrong. But this time we don’t know what is going to happen and we’re just waiting for the first game.
So it suits you being underdogs then?
Yes, we’re happy to be underdogs. We respect that, statistically, the teams in our group are really high-profile, more so than Ghana, and we do respect that. But we’re here and we’re more focused on our game. And we’re here to prove everybody wrong once again.
Germany and Portugal are obviously the favourites.
Yes, they are favourites, and we are happy to be underdogs, as I said earlier. Football doesn’t depend on names anymore; it depends on how you play on the field and as a team. It’s not about individuals. I think our strongest point is the unity in the camp, so we’ve got confidence we can achieve our aim in this year’s World Cup.
How crucial is that first game against USA?
It’s going to be like a revenge [match] for the United States, because we beat the United States in 2006 and we beat them in 2010. And once again we’re playing them in the first game. For the first game of the competition, everybody is focused and nervous, so it’s going to make the game very, very interesting.
Who do you think are your biggest rivals in Group G?
I would say the United States, because, as I said earlier, they are out for revenge because we beat them twice. And it’s going to be the first game of the competition, so everybody will be expecting something better from Ghana and from the United States as well. So it’s going to make the game very interesting. It’s a difficult game, but we’ll try as much as possible to win.
Ghana reached the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010. Is the target to get there again or even go further?
Yes. For now we’re taking it game by game. One game after each other, to make sure we qualify from the group stages before we start thinking ahead. For now, I think the group stages are the most important thing now. So we’re just making sure we concentrate on the group stages and making sure we qualify for the next stage.