Ghana overcome adversity to cruise to World Cup

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JOHANNESBURG - Ghana have overcome the hurdle of a captain without a club and the lack of a proven goal scorer to romp to easy World Cup qualification, the first country to book their place from the African qualifiers.

A 2-0 home win over Sudan on Sunday ensured top place in their group, seven points clear of nearest rivals Mali and with two matches still to play. It means the Black Stars will play at a successive second World Cup finals next year in South Africa.

It was expected Ghana would be stiffly challenge by Mali in their final round group but a stunning away win in Bamako in June emphasised Ghana's quality and swept them easily past their rivals.

Key players have been Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, who both scored on Sunday, but also surprisingly captain Stephen Appiah, who has been without a club for more than a year while battling with a long-standing knee injury.

"It is still special for us professionals to return home and bring joy to the people of Ghana," Essien told reporters.

"Teamwork brought us success as in previous qualifiers. The people of Ghana wanted us to win and we did not let them down. What a fantastic feeling to be the first African country to qualify for the first World Cup to be staged in Africa."

Ghana have yet to concede a goal in four matches in the final round group and have benefited from a solid defence throughout the preliminary campaign.

But coach Milovan Rajevac has still to find a settled attack and in 10 qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup, the team has managed only 18 goals.

Injury to the likes of Asamoah Gyan, who plays in France's Ligue 1, and Kwadwo Asamoah from Italian club Udinese, has exacerbated a problem the team have struggled with for years.

"We have a good group of talented players who know the situation which we find ourselves in. It's a priceless honour for them to represent their country and qualify for a big competition like the World Cup," Rajevac said.

"They are aware of what they can achieve and they have the quality to go on and on. I strongly believed we would make it," the Serbian coach added.

Ghana join hosts South Africa among the six African representatives for the 2010 finals. The Ivory Coast are one point away from clinching their berth but the other three places are expected to be keenly contested over the next months.