Alexander Djiku - Black Stars defender
Alexander Djiku - Black Stars defender

The World Cup is the greatest competition ever - Alexander Djiku

In June 2010, an ambitious 16-year-old boy in the south of France was just starting off his career in professional football with Castelnau-Le Cres, his local club.


 Thousands of miles away, South Africa was abuzz with excitement as the first-ever FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil had just got going.

The teenager in question, Alexander Djiku, happened to be of Ghanaian descent, and much like the rest of the world, his eyes were trained on events in Africa, and in particular the impressive and heroic Black Stars side that reached the quarter-finals of the tournament.

“I didn’t miss one game during that amazing run,” said the-now 29-year-old “At national camps I rub shoulders with Andre Ayew, who was part of that team. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe how I got here, but I don’t spend too much time thinking about it and try to enjoy every moment with the squad, because it truly is an honour to be part of the Black Stars.”

Fourteen years have gone by since South Africa 2010 entertained football fans all over the globe with its colourful atmosphere and non-stop vuvuzelas. But while the raucous cheering has long since faded away, the memorable competition remains fresh in the mind of many Ghana fans for the way it raised hopes and expectations in the country.

Their iconic side from that era, featuring John Mensah, Sulley Muntari, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Asamoah Gyan and more, certainly made its mark, putting in the country’s best-ever performance at a World Cup. Today, their successors, including Montpellier-born Djiku, are doing their utmost to bring about a return to those halcyon days.

However, the relationship between the former Bastia player and the national team took time to flourish, with Djiku having to wait until 2020 to make his international debut. “I wanted to really establish myself at club level before thinking about the national side,” he admitted. “I knew that one day it would come together – I never doubted it, even though it took a few years to happen.”

The defender, who has now won 28 caps for his nation, got a first taste of the World Cup at Qatar 2022. “There's nothing better; it’s just the greatest competition ever,” he said. “I don't like talking about the past. Now we have to look to the future and get through our matches in this World Cup qualifying campaign.”

FIFA World Cup 26 is certainly the Ghanaians’ principal preoccupation right now. 20 years after their maiden appearance in Germany, they have their sights firmly set on playing a starring role in North America in just over two years time.

Despite losing to Comoros in November, Djiku remains convinced that he and his team-mates will manage to qualify. “We’ve got a high-quality team with really good players who can change a game at any moment,” he continued. “Now we need to use those qualities to engineer a change in fortune.”

There have been a few adjustments within the Ghana set-up since that defeat in Moroni, the most important of which being a change at the helm, with Irishman Chris Hughton replaced in March by Otto Addo, who had already taken the reins of his country's national side in 2022.

“He knows the players really well,” said Djiku. "He’s the one who got us to Qatar. He played for Ghana, so he knows the ins and outs of the national team. He’s a great leader, first and foremost. A lot of young guys have been brought into the squad, so we need a coach who excels at man-management, and Addo is unmatched in that department.”

Following a lacklustre start to World Cup qualifying and a difficult CAF Africa Cup of Nations campaign, where they were knocked out in the group stage without winning a single game, Ghana are back on track and full of hope.

“When you get knocked down, you’ve just got to get back up again,” said Djiku. “It’s been hard to accept, because we’re all tough competitors – we don’t like feeling that kind of disappointment, as Ghanaians are a very proud people. We need to bounce back and make a better impression, like our predecessors did.”

Although there is still a long way to go before World Cup 26 gets underway, Ghana have regained control of their own destiny in Group I, having defeated Mali 2-1 in the first of two June internationals. If they can repeat the feat against Central African Republic next time out, they could finish the current qualification window top of the pile and on course for a fifth global finals out of the last six.

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