Columbus Crew duo Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful have recounted memories of their participation at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups respectively.
In Ghana’s second appearance at the global football showpiece in South Africa 2010, Mensah was included in the Black Stars squad as an understudy to then vice captain John Mensah.
The former Evian Thornon Gilliard guardsman was called upon during the West Africa powerhouse’s second fixture of the competition against Australia after John Mensah suffered an injury the first game against Serbia.
The then 19-year-old Mensah shone as the Black Stars ended up drawing the match 1-1 after Asamoah Gyan cancelled out Harry Kewel’s opener.
Mensah went on to become a mainstay in the side as they reached the quarter final stage – where they lost to Uruguay via the penalty shootout.
Reflecting on the fortunate event, the Columbus Crew defender disclosed he was sleeping in his hotel room when he heard a knock on his door.
He opened the door to find Ghana national team manager Milovan Rajevac, accompanied by an assistant coach and an interpreter, staring back at him.
“They’re like, ‘Hey, Jonny, how are you?’ ” Mensah said. “I’m like, ‘I’m sleepy.”
“It made me nervous. I couldn’t sleep for like two hours,” Mensah said. “After the two hours of processing it, I went to bed and the next day I was a bit calm. Once the game started, the (other players) saw I was playing fine and it was good.”
Mensah, now in his second year as a defender for Crew SC, went on to make two more starts in 2010 for Ghana, which became just the third African team to reach the World Cup quarterfinals.
Harrison Afful on the other hand, made his FIFA World Cup debut for the Black Stars in 2014 – where they got booted out of the competition in the group stages.
The right back’s debut in 2014 came a game later than expected as he was displaced in the starting line-up by Daniel Opare in the 2-1 loss to the United States.
“Everything happens for a reason. When we lost our first game to the U.S., everybody in Ghana was talking about me, about why I didn’t start the game,” Afful said. “It brought a lot of pressure on our coach (James Kwesi Appiah) and also the team, so he started me against Germany and, for me, I think I was always ready.”
He showed it early in the second half against Germany, providing a perfect cross to set up Andre Ayew for a tying goal in the 54th minute. Ghana finished with a 2-2 tie, an impressive result in an unimpressive World Cup run. Ghana failed to make it out of the group stage and Germany went on to win its fourth World Cup.
Said Afful of Ghana’s 2018 qualifying disappointment: “Such is life. Life still goes on.”
He and Mensah will watch other nations compete next month before shifting their focus to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. After that, the 2022 World Cup is a focus, but both know nothing is guaranteed in soccer. Afful will be 35 in 2022. He said he will pay attention to the year, not his age.
“When you think about your age, it slows you down and so I have to keep going,” he said. “This is the job I chose and I enjoy it, so I just have to keep playing.”