It’s Ghana ’s fourth appearance in the last four since 2008. In last year’s tournament, they were the favourites to beat Zambia in the semis but suffered a shock 1-0 defeat.
The Black Stars are in the same position as they take on overachieving Burkina Faso at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Wednesday night.
Appiah was assistant coach to Goran Stevanovic in the last campaign and he replaced the Serb last April.
But in his 10 months in charge, he says he’s noticed a different attitude towards him from the media and football analysts in his country.
“There’s no difference between a foreign coach and a local coach,” he says. “But the thing they tend to get is respect. The management shows respect to the coach, the media shows respect to the coach and automatically the players follow.”
Of the 16 teams in the Africa Cup of Nations, seven have African coaches.
Appiah, a defender in the Ghana squad that lifted the trophy in 1982, has seen his reputation burnished by leading the team to the semis.
But he told RFI that even in the run in South Africa , he’s suffered barbs:
“After the game against Cape Verde, which we won 2-0, people were asking me: ‘Are you going to resign?’ You know, you really don’t need that after a game you’ve actually just won. The players in the dressing room were happy that they’d won. But outside that’s what people feel they can ask.”
Admittedly Ghana didn’t perform brilliantly in that game, committing 25 fouls during the 2-0 victory over their fellow west Africans.
Appiah says such sloppiness was been addressed in a 30 minute no-holds barred session with the defensive unit after the game.
“It’s a problem,” adds Appiah. “We’re not supposed to be conceding fouls like that in front of the box. We’ve been working on it.”
While there may be trepidation about defence frailties, the attack appears to be in rude health.
Eight goals have been scored and the decision to bring through Wakaso Mubarak appears to be paying dividends. The 22-year-old Espanyol striker bagged a brace in that quarter-final win over Cape Verde and seems to have learned from his indiscretions.
He was suspended for the final Group B match against Niger on 28 January after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament. In the second group game with Mali, he celebrated a goal by lifting his shirt to reveal a vest bearing the slogan: ‘Allah Is Great’.
Football authorities take a dim view of such antics. And they don’t help team coaches.
“It’s not easy building a national team to participate in competitions and to perform,” says Appiah. “A local coach needs support when things aren’t going well. You need people behind you saying you can do it. But in the case of a black coach, there are so many people who will turn around and say: ‘We said you couldn’t do it. You’re nothing.’ They try to bring you down. Once the media starts, the management gets involved too and it puts so much pressure on you. You get distracted and there’s no way you can make it.”
But Appiah tells RFI he’s strong enough to make the necessary decisions. For example, despite criticism in Ghana, he tried to persuade AC Milan midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng out of his self-imposed international retirement. It didn’t work. Appiah also left the door open for Asamoah Gyan to return after he took a break from the national team after the last Cup of Nations. That did. Gyan is his ever-willing self in attack.
But Appiah insists that he’s not appealing for indulgence. “Along the way you’re going to be facing challenges when things aren’t going well. And you expect people to let you know. But ultimately it is up to the coach to take the decisions that they think are right for them and for the nation. And if that’s not good enough, you can resign or they can sack you.”
Appiah’s not quite in that position yet. But all may change after the game against Burkina Faso.
Star midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah, who played in the 2010 final defeat to Egypt and also in last year’s semi-final setback, adds: “Every year we try to learn from past mistakes. We have a winning mentality. No matter how bad or good we play we try to win and move forward. It’s really no good playing well and losing.”
Appiah, though, is confident going into the clash. “The unity is fantastic with this group of players,” he confides. “We’ve got 10 young players in there and they mix together so well. They act as if they’ve been together for years.”
The pride is patently paternal. And without quite reaching for the pipe and becoming misty-eyed, he tells RFI that he sees similarities in the bonds between his current charges and the interaction between the men he played with in the all-conquering side of 1982.
But there's an abrupt conclusion to his trip down memory lane. “During my time I think 99 per cent of us were playing locally," he recalls. "At that time the dedication and willingness to play for Ghana was so high, unlike now. You call up some players and because of their egos, they don’t want to come.
“Back then you went in for the tackle to defend your country … different eras, different situations.”
The scenario now in February 2013 is clear. The players are on the cusp of immortality. Appiah’s told the squad his name is in the pantheon. He’s challenged them to join him.