PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Ghana’s jittery players met among themselves to discuss what went wrong against Congo and “psyche themselves up” after the team blew a 2-0 lead and was ultimately lucky to get a draw in its African Cup of Nations opener.
Coach Kwesi Appiah indicated Monday that his players’ mental state was now the focus after the sudden reality check for a team picked — almost by the country’s African Cup reputation alone — as one of the favorites to win the trophy.
In fact, Ghana’s young team was unable to deal with Congo’s potent attack for much of Sunday’s game in Port Elizabeth and hung on at the end, undermining its title credentials.
“Yesterday the players themselves met to try to find out what happened,” Appiah said. “It was a forum where everybody had to say what he thinks. They tried to psyche themselves up.”
Appiah also took measures to quickly address the slump at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
“Some of the players lost concentration. I have actually dealt with them this morning,” he said.
Although Appiah smiled and laughed regularly with reporters at the team’s seaside hotel, his job was made much harder in South Africa by the inexperience of much of Ghana’s talented but young team, which couldn’t protect a lead it had carved out with some fine football.
With Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien all unavailable and sticking with their clubs, Appiah picked 10 players new to the African Cup in his squad of 23 and started five of them against Congo.
“It’s not easy … it’s normal that some of them are a bit jittery,” Appiah said. “I believe we’ve got very good talents. We’re trying to psyche them up.”
Appiah said there would be another “forum” for players to talk in front of the entire group on Monday night and “discuss many issues” to build their confidence.
Next for Ghana in Group B is a typically physical Mali team, which beat Niger 1-0 thanks to captain Seydou Keita’s impressive individual performance.
“I wouldn’t say it’s Keita alone,” Appiah warned after the Congo draw increased the pressure on the coach and players to beat Mali.
Monday’s press conference in a small room at the hotel was being broadcast live back to Ghana, team officials said, as Appiah and players Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu were called on to explain the team’s performance.
“Once you’re leading and you concede two goals … How do I say it? It’s important that you put it behind you. You learn from it,” Appiah said.