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Only first place will do Ghana coach avers

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, January 19 – Nothing less than victory in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final next month will do for hard-to-please Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic.

The fair-haired 45-year-old Serb travels to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this week for the January 21-February 12 tournament with a squad considered joint favourites beside Ivory Coast.

Ghana launch a three-match Group D campaign next Monday in south-east Gabon town Franceville against surprise qualifiers Botswana followed at four-day intervals by clashes with Mali and Guinea.

It is a mini-league the Black Stars should win and move within three victories of a title they last held 30 years ago when pipping hosts Libya in a Tripoli penalty shootout.

“We were runners-up at the last Cup of Nations in Angola two years ago and a repeat of what has already been achieved is not good enough,” admitted Stevanovic.

“My players and I are motivated. All of us have spoken a lot about this African tournament and we agree Ghana are going to be champions. We are under pressure, but that is normal in football.

“The record of Ghana in the Cup of Nations means they will always be among the favourites and we accept that playing in the final is the least our supporters expect from us.”

Stevanovic played as a midfielder at home and in Spain, Portugal and Greece and coached leading Belgrade outfit Partizan before succeeding compatriot Milovan Rajevac after Ghana reached the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals in South Africa.

A few months earlier, Rajevac had taken a team severely depleted by injuries to the Cup of Nations final in Angola where they contained defending champions Egypt for 85 minutes before conceding the only goal of the game.

Many of those Cup of Nations and World Cup stars travelled to central Africa this week, including centre-back John Mensah, midfielders Andre Ayew and Sulley Muntari and fit-again striker Asamoah Gyan.

The sight of Gyan scoring in a warm-up win over South African Premiership club Platinum Stars will have cheered Stevanovic as the United Arab Emirates-based star had been doubtful for the tournament because of a hamstring injury.

Ghana prepared for the Cup of Nations at the same sport facilities used by England during the World Cup two years ago in north-west South African platinum town Rustenburg.

Stevanovic erected a ring of steel around the five-star hotel where the Black Stars stayed, banning visitors and media as he plotted the downfall of Ivory Coast, Senegal and other title rivals.

“In my humble opinion, Ivory Coast and Senegal should reach the last four and one of them will probably play in the final. Mali are also a team to watch out for,” said the Ghana coach.

The four-time African champions have never played Botswana or Mali in the Cup of Nations, but boast an impressive record of three victories and a draw against the Guineans.

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