With the Africa Cup of Nations nearly upon him, Kwesi Appiah is hoping to make the most of his unexpected international chance and attempt to help Ghana to their first title in 33 years.
In one of the more unlikely call-ups to the tournament, the Eagles striker, who has spent the first half of the season on loan at Cambridge United, was selected in Avram Grant's squad ahead of household names such as Michael Essien, Sullay Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng as the former Chelsea boss looks towards the future of the national side.
In his first outing in a Black Stars shirt last week Appiah scored in a 3-0 win against Portuguese side Olhanense in an unofficial friendly, and he is hoping to collect his first cap during the tournament which kicks off tomorrow. Having got the call on Christmas Eve, Appiah admits it made his festive period all the more exciting.
“I received a phone call on Christmas Eve from someone from the Ghana FA,” he told FIFA.com. “I was on the way to training and I got a call from someone saying, ‘We’d like to invite you to come and play for the national team’. I got goosebumps thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ I was delighted, extremely proud as well. It blew me away.”
Initially selected for a preliminary 31-man squad, Grant trimmed the squad to 26 for a training camp in Spain and, again, Appiah made the cut. A few days later, the final list was submitted to for the finals and the 24-year-old was named in the final 23.
He qualifies for the country through his father's heritage, and their scouts were impressed with his displays on loan at the U's in League Two this season where he has scored eight times in 23 appearances. Playing at the likes of Newport County and York City will be a far cry to coming up against Senegal, Algeria and South Africa, but it's an experience the striker is ready to take advantage of.
“One minute I’m driving up the motorway every day in my carpool with four other guys, trekking to training and back, and the next thing I know I’m on planes, travelling to training camps, getting bombarded by Ghana fans everywhere we go,” he added. “It’s something that I’m soaking up and dealing with as we go by. I’m not letting it affect me at all, I’m just trying to play my game when the time comes.
“These [Ghana] players are extremely talented, they are quality players. To train with them and see what they do day in, day out it only breeds confidence in me, makes me want to be a better player and learn from what they do. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity and I’ll take everything I can from it. Everyone has tried to make me feel welcome. As time goes by, everyone gets a bit more comfortable around each other.
“There are new faces, but there are a lot who are familiar with each other. The atmosphere is brilliant, the chemistry within the team is fantastic. It helps us as a team to be as one on the pitch.
"[Grant] has got very clear ideas of how he wants the team to play, and the style with which he wants us to perform. All the players have taken to what he’s been saying, and trying their best to carry it out on the field. That’s the important thing, people buying into how he’s trying to make us play.”
Ghana start their campaign against Senegal on Sunday before four days later taking on Algeria. After that they face South Africa in their final group game, aiming to get out of a pool that has been labelled the tournament's 'group of death', but Appiah is hopeful they can squeeze through to the knockout stages, eliminating two of their rivals for the trophy in the process.
He said: “From the outside looking in, you’d think that is the 'group of death' but we’re quietly confident of our chances of succeeding in this tournament and progressing to the latter stages. Obviously they’re extremely talented teams, we’ve just got to give it all we’ve got.”
For more information on the tournament, read our preview here.