ISTANBUL (AP) — Ghana has narrowly avoided elimination from the Under-20 World Cup twice, and now the 2009 champions believe they can go all the way and win the title again.
Ghana lost its first two group matches but advanced on goal difference last week. The team had to come from 2-1 behind in the closing 10 minutes to defeat Portugal in the first knockout round on Wednesday.
"If God is on our side, history keeps on repeating," striker Frank Acheampong told The Associated Press on Friday. "We have to give thanks to God. (Against Portugal) we were down but we were able to come out with flying colors in the game."
The only African nation still in the tournament, Ghana plays Chile in the last quarterfinal on Sunday. The winner will face France or Uzbekistan for a place in the final. In the other quarterfinals, it's Iraq vs. South Korea and Uruguay vs. Spain.
"The beginning of the tournament was difficult but now we are improving with every match," Acheampong said. "So we think, if it's the will of God we will win this next game." Coach Sellas Tetteh believed the edgy start could ultimately work in Ghana's favor.
"We are the only team among the eight teams that started badly," Tetteh said. "If you see where we've come from and what we've reached, we should be more motivated than the others. " Ghana advanced from what was arguably the toughest group, containing tournament favorite Spain, France and the United States.
"We know we have met difficult teams in our group, and Portugal was one of the best," Tetteh said. "So now we believe any other team we meet, we can beat." Ghana's youth team usually performs well at the World Cup. Apart from winning the title four years ago, it finished runner-up in 1993 and 2001. Ghana reached the semifinals in four of its five previous appearances.
Tetteh led Ghana to the African and the world title in 2009 but left the following year. After a stint as head coach of Ruanda, Tetteh returned just before the African Under-20 Championship earlier this year. Ghana reached the final, losing to Egypt after a penalty shootout.
The winning coach who came back "is a motivation factor for the team," Tetteh said. "The boys are so relieved they have someone who's already done it. So definitely they have confidence in me." In his 21-man squad for Turkey, Tetteh picked just five players from European clubs, including Acheampong (Anderlecht, Belgium) and Yiadom Boakye (Sassuolo, Italy), who scored the late winner against Portugal.
The team's standout player so far, Ebenezer Assifuah, is still with Liberty Professionals in Ghana. Assifuah scored three times in qualifying and twice in the decisive group match against the United States.
For the national team, Tetteh has always favored talents who are still playing in the domestic league. "They are more willingly, they are hungrier to play," Tetteh said. "You need a team with determination, and that is what they have. That pushes them ... So it's good for the team. And it's good for our development as it encourages local players in the country, too."
One of the foreigners on the team, Acheampong supports his coach's philosophy to mainly rely on locally based players. "When they get the chance to play in this tournament, they bring out all what they have so the whole world can see them," Acheampong said.
Tetteh brought in the five players from abroad to add international experience. "They enhance the local boys," the coach said. "That brings a blending and that keeps us going."