A perfect illustration of the importance of Ghana's flying full-backs came in the 31st minute of the semi-final between Ghana and Hungary at the Cairo International Stadium. The competition's top scorer Dominic Adiyiah was the recipient of yet another great cross from right-back Samuel Inkoom, heading the ball down and beyond Peter Gulacsi to fire the African hopefuls into a two-goal lead.
"It's always a huge pleasure to make an assist," the Basel player told FIFA.com afterwards, his team through to the final after an eventual 3-2 success. It is a pleasure Inkoom has become accustomed to as the competition has worn on. Six of Ghana's 16 goals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 have originated from the team's full-backs. Three of those have come from the right, with Inkoom sparking efforts against England, Korea Republic and the Magyars. The other three have come from the left, where David Addy has helped undo Uzbekistan, South Africa and the Taeguk Warriors.
"The coach [Sellas Tetteh] often asks us to get forward and outnumber opponents," explained Addy. "That doesn't automatically mean we're weaker at the back. We're also capable of defending." Indeed, both players seem at pains to counter criticisms that the Black Satellites have been too porous in defence, shipping eight goals in their six outings. "It's true that my style is very attacking," added Inkoom. "But when I get forward, I always make sure that my flank is covered. And as soon as possession is lost, I run back at full speed."
They might just as easily have said that football is about scoring at least one more goal than your opponents, which is certainly how Tetteh seems to think about the game. Both full-backs have plenty of admiration for the man in the dugout and his general approach. "We have to win this competition, if only for the coach," said Addy, who at 19 plies his club football with Randers in Denmark. "He's very close to us and we have a lot of fun together. But when it's time to work, he doesn't joke around anymore."
A year older at 20, Inkoom admits that he is tracing his own progress through the eyes of his parents. "My father is a teacher and, at the start, he didn't want me to be a footballer," explained the player often compared to Côte d'Ivoire international Emmanuel Eboue. "It's my mother who encouraged me to keep at it. Now they're both honoured to see their surname on the team-sheets of a World Cup match, and they were the first ones to send me an SMS after the semi-final. They said they were very proud and that I'd been the best player in the game. They're parents, so they're not always objective (laughs)."
The entire country will no doubt feel equally proud of all 21 players in Tetteh's squad should Ghana find a way past Brazil in Friday's final. Voted Best Defender and Best Young Ghanaian Player in 2008, Addy does not doubt for a second that they can do just that. "Ever since the qualifiers in Rwanda, we've known that we've got what it takes to lift the trophy," he said. "Now that victory is within our reach, we won't let our chance slip away."
The statistics do not favour the African champions, however. Never before has a team from Africa won the competition, with Ghana coming close on two occasions only to fall to South American opposition at the final hurdle: in a 2-1 loss to Brazil in 1993 and a 3-0 defeat by Argentina in 2001. Despite that record, past encounters matter little for Inkoom. "Of course we're aware of those figures, but we came here to write history and to return home with the trophy," he said. "So that's what we're going to do."
They said they were very proud and that I'd been the best player in the game. They're parents, so they're not always objective!