Black Stars’ No.?1 fan

2015-02-05 00:00

MARITZBURG United defender John Paintsil’s international record is simply remarkable. Five Afcons (2002, 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2013) and two Fifa World Cups (2006 and 2010) have contributed towards the former West Ham United and Fulham star earning no fewer than 89 caps for Ghana in a career that has spanned over 15 years.

Tomorrow will mark exactly two year’s since Paintsil’s last international appearance, and it is one that he doesn’t have fond memories of. Playing in the semi-finals of Afcon 2013 against Burkina Faso, Painstil was forced to leave the pitch after just 10 minutes with a hamstring strain before his side went out on penalties at Mbombela Stadium.

But the 33-year-old is still as passionate as ever about his “motherland”, and he will be watching tonight’s Afcon semi-final between the Black Stars and tournament hosts Equatorial Guinea from his Maritzburg home with bated breath.

“I never get nervous before matches, but I’m honestly a little bit nervous about this one,” Paintsil told The Witness yesterday. “My heart is beating for the boys. If we can get to the final then I think we will go on and win it.”

It won’t be easy, though. Equatorial Guinea have played some enterprising football throughout the tournament and their current place in the last four is the best result they have ever achieved at ­Afcon. Painstil is expecting the home support, as has been the case throughout the competition, to turn the hosts into formidable opposition tonight.

“Their fans are really helping them and have kept them going. The whole country and stadium will want them to win and they will be very motivated,” said Paintsil. “But that is the type of game that Ghana want — they want a game that will entertain the whole world. We are going to go all out for this one.”

Ghana, according to Painstil, are renowned for starting slowly at international tournaments. But their 3-0 win over Guinea in the quarter-finals suggested that they have hit their stride.

“That game looked like it was easy, but it wasn’t,” said Paintsil. “The early goal helped and I knew then that it was going to be a good game for us.”

Ghana left it late to qualify for the quarter-finals and were 45 minutes away from an early exit. Being 1-0 down at half time to Bafana Bafana in the final fixtures of Group C, Ghana knew that only a win would see them progress. They turned it on in a big way, and bossed Bafana into submission as they secured a 2-1 win and a place in the last eight.

“Even when South Africa had the lead I was confident that we would win the game,” Painstil said. “There was a moment when we were down and [Andre] Ayew started pumping up the crowd — I knew then that we would win.”

They haven’t looked back since, and even though Paintsil would love to be ­involved in tonight’s semi-final, he would in no way let that get in the way of his allegiance.

“It is not difficult to be watching from the sidelines. A lot of the guys who are in the side now were just coming up when I was there,” he said.

“I told them that this is international football, not club football, and they have to fight for their motherland. I get excited for them and I really want them to win.”

Paintsil has been a mainstay at the heart of Maritzburg’s defence this season, and he says that as long as he is ­playing professional football he will be available for national duty should he be needed.

That is unlikely, but the glittering ­career of one of African football’s finest products will always remain intact.

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