Crystal Palace will be represented by Joachim Andersen and Jordan Ayew at the 2022 World Cup, as the two Eagles travel with Denmark and Ghana respectively. Below, you can hear from each of them, and find out what to expect from the two countries over the next few weeks.
Jordan Ayew could “hear the whole country” through his partner’s phone when Sulley Muntari scored for Ghana against Uruguay in 2010. He was watching from a hotel room with Olympique de Marseille and talking to his partner, who was following the game from Ghana.
“I could hear the whole country in my missus’ house and the whole area,” he remembers, “the noise and people blowing their horns. It was a moment no one can forget.”
On the bench in South Africa Ayew’s elder brothers André and Ibrahim joined the rest of the nation in feeling this could be history for Ghana: a World Cup semi-final on their home continent.
But it wasn’t to be. In one of football’s cruellest games Uruguay equalised through Diego Forlán and took the tie to extra time. Luis Suárez then blocked a goal-bound Dominic Adiyiah header in the 120th-minute with both his hands, and Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Minutes later the Black Stars were dumped from the tournament via a shootout.
It may have been heartbreak for Ghana, but for Jordan Ayew seeing his compatriots on the global stage acted as motivation – and this winter he will almost certainly walk in their footsteps against Uruguay once more.
“I saw that the country really, really, really loves football,” he says. “That gave me the motivation to be like: ‘I want to play in the World Cup, do well in the World Cup and I want to be in a squad where we put smiles on people’s faces.’”
Ayew played in the 2014 competition alongside his brother André but was never able to watch his father Abedi Pele on the global stage, with Ghana failing to qualify during his career.
He says walking out alongside André was a “dream come true” for his family, explaining: “I told my dad it was a dream come true. You play with your brothers in the garden and now play in a high-pressure game. It’s a bit different but it’s quite enjoyable. It’s not easy for my parents because they’re always under stress for us to perform but it’s God’s favour. We are blessed. Honestly, our dreams have come true and we are happy.”
Ghana have become familiar faces at the World Cup in recent years, competing in their first tournament in 2006. They missed out in 2018 but will have featured in four of the last five once Qatar gets underway.
Historically one of the strongest forces in African football, Ghana lag behind in the FIFA world rankings in 61st, with Panama and Northern Ireland ahead of them.
Their Africa Cup of Nations performances lately won’t have helped, being knocked out in the group stage this year, but with the Ayew brothers and a roster of Premier League names like Tariq Lamptey, Mohammed Salisu and Daniel Armartey, they will feel they are better than their ranking suggests.
Their group makes for a punishing start, however, with Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay all posing serious challenges. The Uruguay game on December 2nd offers a chance at redemption for 2010, but breaking out of Group H will take a sizeable effort.
Ghana’s Group H fixtures
There’s a little trademark confidence to Joachim Andersen when discussing Denmark’s World Cup chances. Perhaps that’s not surprising: they beat favourites France last time out and took England to extra time in the European Championships semi-final.
Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during the tournament meant Denmark’s efforts were backed worldwide and, from the outside, has given the nation a unique look of unity and purpose.
Andersen says their togetherness is palpable, but that is pre-existed the 2020 Euros. “We are really, really good friends – everyone – outside the pitch, which is really, really important,” he says. “You can see that on the pitch in the way we work together, the togetherness, really compact, really hard to beat. It’s all to do with outside the pitch. I enjoy playing for them.
“Many players have played together for a long time in the national team or with other clubs. That’s where the connection is from. I played together with a lot of the guys for a long time and we just have fun together. I don’t know what we do to get that connection, it’s difficult to say how it is in other teams but we just feel really connected and have a good laugh.”
In qualifying Denmark conceded just three goals, two of them in the same match, showing a defensive solidity Andersen plays a central part in, alongside Barcelona’s Andreas Christensen.
The central defender again credits team spirit with that attribute: “This togetherness, we are so difficult to beat,” he says. “We work so hard, everyone, from the strikers to the defenders. We are a unit, so compact and it’s hard to beat us. We have an amazing goalkeeper [Kasper Schmeichel] as well who makes some good saves. So I think it’s down to that: simple, working together.”
So what about that trademark confidence?
“I always think we can go all the way otherwise I wouldn’t play,” Andersen says with a smile. “Every game we want to win and in the end you win the World Cup. But of course it’s difficult because there are a lot of nations. We showed we are a good team, showed we have quality and can go along in tournaments.
“We just beat France, so you never know. We beat France in the Nations League but obviously they are world class, a world class team. I think we have good possibilities to go through from the group.”
Denmark have developed a ‘dark horse’ tag given their excellent qualifying campaign and success in the UEFA Nations League. They’re ranked 10th in the world and are in at roughly 30/1 to win the tournament outright.
With a squad including Danish icon and AC Milan defender Simon Kjær, Christensen, Eriksen, Martin Braithwaite and Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Denmark may even see their dark horse label as unfair. They have a relatively winnable group, too, facing France, Tunisia and Australia.
Denmark’s Group D fixtures
Finally, a word from Patrick Vieira, who as a World Cup winner explained the best approach to the tournament:
“It’s important for the manager of the national team to have every player fit and available,” he told the Palace programme. “I think fitness is really important in going to the end. Obviously having your key players at their best physically to perform at that level helps them go to the end – with a little bit of luck.
“I will watch every game our players are in. We have a really good relationship with each of their teams and exchange details about training, and there is a relationship between the physios and the national teams’ physios and doctors.
“I would tell any player going to enjoy the moment. Playing in a World Cup is a kids’ dream, and there are not many you can play in. Maximise those moments. Play it, don’t leave [anything behind] – because it’s important not to have any regrets after the competition.”
Download the official Palace app here to follow the lads’ World Cup progress!