New boss Rajevac needs to continue sacked Akonnor's work - Paintsil

By Ibrahim Ridwan AsanteFootball Writer, Toronto
Former Ghana defender John Paintsil
Former Ghana defender John Paintsil played under Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac at the 2010 World Cup

Former Ghana defender John Paintsil believes re-appointed Black Stars coach Milovan Rajevac needs to build on the foundations laid by his predecessor to have a successful second stint.

The 67-year-old returned to the helm of Ghana in September as he signed a one-year contract to replace CK Akonnor, the former national captain.

On Saturday, Rajevac's latest Ghana side host Zimbabwe in World Cup qualifying, with his side second in a group topped by South Africa.

The Serb's first two-year stint with Ghana saw them come closer than any African side to a World Cup semi-final, as they unforgettably lost out to Uruguay in South Africa in 2010.

Earlier that year, the Black Stars had finished runners-up at the Africa Cup of Nations, going down in their first final in 18 years to Egypt.

"What Milo [Rajevac] needs to do is to continue from where CK Akonnor left off," Paintsil told BBC Sport Africa.

"For me, I don't think CK did badly - he won his first match (World Cup qualifier) at home and lost his second match away against South Africa."

Despite the opening win last month over Ethiopia, Ghana's defeat in South Africa resulted in the dismissal of Akonnor a week later.

"CK went there [to Johannesburg] without his first starting XI. 60% of his key players were missing so he managed to use the remaining materials he had in that crucial match. We were just unlucky to concede that late goal."

In the very Johannesburg stadium where Ghana's Luis Suarez-enabled exit to Uruguay in 2010 took place, the Black Stars were missing several UK-based players unable to play because of Covid-related travel issues.

Ghana vs Uruguay: "I can't forgive Suarez - he cheated"

"If Milo decides to change the handwriting of CK, it will be a problem for him," ventured Paintsil. "It will be difficult to rebuild so he has to continue.

"Those players have played together for a while now - they know each other, what everyone can do and are gelling in terms of pairing players."

Rajevac decided against a major shake-up when naming his squad for October's back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Zimbabwe.

Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey has overcome his injury problems and returns after missing both September's qualifiers.

World Cup ready?

Some critics have questioned whether the current squad can match the crop that qualified for three consecutive World Cups from 2006 to 2014.

The view is not shared by Paintsil, who starred for English Premier League sides West Ham United and Fulham.

"During my time, most of us were doing well in our clubs," he pointed out.

"It was very competitive with many of us playing in the English Premier League, some in Europe playing Europa League and Champions League.

SA vs Ghana
Ghana captain Andre Ayew and Siyanda Xulu of South Africa during the hosts' 1-0 win in Johannesburg

"If you check the stats - it doesn't matter whether it is in Asia or wherever as long as they are playing very well.

''Captain Andre Ayew has banged in three (now four) goals already (at Qatari club Al Sadd), Jordan plays every week (at Crystal Palace) and he's still on it.

"I believe playing more matches together will help them. I don't think not playing for major clubs in Europe will be a problem for the Black Stars."

Big aims

Ghana's FA has set Rajevac the targets of not only winning January's Nations Cup but also qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

A veteran of six Nations Cup tournaments, Paintsil believes it will be a mammoth task for the Serb to win in Cameroon.

"For me it's not right to ask somebody to win the Afcon but Milovan accepted because he believes in Ghanaian players," he continued.

"So it's up to the players to come dine with the coach and listen to him for them to put their heads together and perform. Winning Afcon is not going to be easy but qualifying for the World Cup is a must."

"Milovan has a task but we Ghanaians must also support him and any call-up that he makes, we must support."

Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac
Serb coach Milovan Rajevac led Ghana to the Nations Cup final and World Cup quarter-finals in 2010

Afful hopes

One player to have experience of playing for Rajevac is the US-based defender Harrison Afful and he has backed the Serb to swiftly improve the Black Stars' fortunes.

The right back played under Rajevac at the inaugural edition of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Ivory Coast in 2009 where they won silver.

He was also in Ghana's squad for the run to the Nations Cup final in Angola the following year.

"Working with Milovan gives you a great professional experience," the Columbus Crew player told BBC Sport Africa.

"He's experienced and intelligent so it's easy to understand what he means most of the time, even without his translator. If the opportunity presents itself, I'd like to work with him again."

Now in his seventh season at the MLS club, Afful, 35, last played for Ghana in 2017 in a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Egypt.

Rajevac's latest bid to restore Ghana's former glories starts in Cape Coast on Saturday, with a trip to Zimbabwe on Tuesday and South Africa and Ethiopia in Group G's finale in November.

There's little rest as in three months, he has a Nations Cup to win.