Investment to match the interest -- Ghana's Under-20s profit from both

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Ozan Kose/Getty ImagesPart of the success of Ghana's Under-20 side can be credited to FIFA's goal project.

Ghana's Black Satellites will be in Turkey for the last match-day of the Under-20 World Cup, but they will not be competing in the fixture they had their eyes on. Instead of tussling for the trophy in Istanbul, they will feature in the third-place playoff, where their brand of fast-paced football will be on display for the final time.

- France fend off Ghana to advance to final

Still, the continent will remember their participation in the event with pride. They were the African team who went the furthest and as a result, showed the most promise. For the second time in the last four years, they ended up among the top four teams and will be hopeful this success can translate onto the international stage as it did during the 2010 World Cup.

Ghana's development has been hailed as an ultimate triumph -- an illustration of what can happen when there is investment to match the interest and a healthy footballing culture of success. But it should be remembered that there was a significant failing sandwiched between these two Under-20 tournaments which may have been the catalyst for some change in Ghana.

After their victory in 2009, Ghana did not even qualify for the 2011 Under-20 World Cup in Colombia. Neither their men's not their women's teams participated in the London Games in 2012. A writer on Modernghana.com blamed the FA for "serious underlying problems with the development of the game."

Kwame Osei argued the administration had not built significantly on the seeds planted by the country's first president Kwame Nkrumah. He said the league was not competitive enough, as it continued to chase its best players overseas in search of more lucrative pay cheques and attract sub-standard European coaches; that there was not enough expertise in Ghanaian football in areas like sports science, nutrition and psychology, and there was not enough being done at grassroots level, particularly academies.

It has previously been reported that there were 500 unofficial academies in the capital Accra alone and young players were lured with false promises instead of genuine opportunity. Perhaps, as Osei suggested, Ghana's FA did not do enough, but they had the good fortune and illustrious history to inspire youngsters, plus the backing of an important heavyweight to get themselves back on track.

With youngsters wanting to emulate everyone from Abedi Pele to Michael Essien, Ghana are not short of role-models. Having won the African Nations' Cup four times, they are also no strangers to success. Like many countries, they need financial assistance and that is where Ghana have the edge over some of their continental counterparts.

Ghana is one of just two African countries enjoying their fifth FIFA goal project. The other is the Ivory Coast. The current initiative involves the building of a turf pitch at the technical centre, which was the subject of three of the previous goal projects. The building of a headquarters for the Ghanaian FA was the other outlet for the cash. Only the DRC have had more projects -- with six -- while most African countries have three and some like South Africa, Libya and Angola are only on their first one.

Already, Ghana have seen tangible benefits from their gifts from the FIFA. The centre for excellence which was completed in April has given them the facilities and space they did not have before. Now, they can house players in the 70 rooms for training camps instead of looking to other countries and expensive hotels when they want to convene. The Under-20 squad stayed there in preparation for the World Cup, the senior side will camp there ahead of World Cup qualifiers and the Under-17s will use it before they head to the Emirates for their tournament later in the year.

It may sound like a small thing but it's the kind of thing that can make a big difference. It will not have been the only reason Ghana put on such a show in Turkey. They have their talented crop of players and the lack of fear they showed to thank for that.

In particular, keep an eye on Ebenezer Assifuah, who is probably on the brink of a debut for the senior side. He scored Ghana’s equalizer against France and almost drew level a second time as the match drew to a close. Twice. With players like him in the ranks, Osei has little to worry about as Ghana look to the future.

ESPN Conversations