ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Ghana's players are "realistic enough" to know that they have a much tougher World Cup challenge this time, midfielder Michael Essien said Thursday.
Ghana made the quarterfinals and barely missed out on the semifinals in South Africa four years ago after a last-minute penalty miss in extra time and a shootout loss to Uruguay. A place in the last four would have made Ghana the first African team to go that far at a World Cup.
Just making the second round is a huge task this year.
In Brazil, Ghana faces Germany, Portugal and the United States in Group G. Only the top two teams advance.
"Anything can happen but we are realistic enough to know we cannot aim that high from the start," Essien said in an interview on the FIFA website. "Get the first objective of making the second round out of the way and we will see how far we can go."
Aware of the expectation on Africa's best-performing team in 2010, the AC Milan midfielder said the Ghana squad is "certainly capable" of making history for the continent and reaching the semifinals in Brazil. But it would be a major surprise if Ghana makes the knockout round and progresses ahead of either Germany or Portugal, the two countries ranked just behind world champion Spain.
Ghana's midfield is its strength, Essien said, where he could combine with AC Milan teammate Sulley Muntari, Marseille's Andre Ayew, Juventus' Kwadwo Asamoah and Schalke's Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Essien will likely be the lynchpin. He missed the last World Cup with injury and hasn't played in a major tournament for his country for more than four years.
The squad gathered for a training camp in Accra this week and will play a farewell game on Friday against a local team before traveling to Europe, the U.S. and then Brazil.
Ghana faces the Netherlands and South Korea in warm-up matches before opening at the World Cup against the Americans on June 16. Ghana beat the U.S. at the last two World Cups.