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Soccer-Ghana's Accam hopes to complete journey from non-league to World Cup

Reuters

By Philip O'Connor

May 21 (Reuters) - As his country Ghana marched to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals in South Africa, striker David Accam was playing non-league football in England where even his electrifying pace was curtailed on the muddy pitches.

Four years later, after a move to Sweden and a superb run of form for Helsingborgs IF, the 23-year-old is on the verge of representing Ghana at the World Cup in Brazil, where they face the United States, Germany and Portugal in Group G.

Discovered on the gravel pitches of Ghana's capital Accra by the Right to Dream Academy, which provides sports, education and leadership training for underprivileged young talent in Africa, Accam has made the country's provisional 26-man World Cup squad.

The 23-year-old's speed has seen him linked to some of the world's top clubs, like Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund, and the World Cup could provide his ticket to the big time.

"I'm playing really well," Accam told Reuters in Stockholm before he joined up with the squad. "I think it's one of my best seasons so far and I just need to continue into the World Cup."

Accam is as softly-spoken and friendly off the pitch as he is dangerous on it but his humility is not to be confused with a lack of self-confidence. He believes he has earned his chance, although it is still a tall order to make the final squad.

"Yeah it's difficult. I know my talent, I know I have the ability but I didn't have the chance because of work permit problems in England," he said.

"I had to come to Sweden to work my way up, but if you're good enough and you work hard you'll get a chance, and that's what happened."

HIGHEST FEE

Having averaged better than a goal every two games during his time at non-league sides Ledbury Town and Evesham United, Accam left England in 2012 and came to Sweden, where he joined third-tier side Ostersund.

It was there that his career took off and nine goals in 14 games meant he only stayed for a matter of months with the club before moving to Helsingborgs in the Swedish top flight.

The 500,000 euros ($684,800) transfer fee was the highest ever paid for a player from the Swedish third tier.

He was due to be loaned back to Ostersund for the rest of the season but was recalled by Helsingborgs for a Champions League qualifying match against Celtic and stayed.

Accam's combination of searing pace and clinical finishing saw him called up for Ghana's World Cup qualifier against Sudan in March 2013 and even though he did not get to make his debut on that occasion he was in no way disappointed.

"It was amazing, playing with some of the best players in your country - (Sulley) Muntari, (Asamoah) Gyan, (Andre) Ayew, (Kevin-Prince) Boateng. I learnt a lot in that one week I was on the bench," he said.

DIFFICULT GROUP

With Group G favourites Portugal and Germany bristling with world-class talent, Ghana and the U.S. will have their work cut out to reach the last 16. But Accam has been doing his homework in case he gets the chance to face either team.

"Most of them (Germans and Portuguese) play in the Champions League, so we've been watching that every Tuesday and Wednesday. It would be nice to play against them.

"It's a difficult group but Ghana have a lot of good players, and on a good day we should be able to qualify from the group," he says.

Accam is still getting used to his new-found status as a hot property in soccer. He is friendly but cautious as he answers questions, careful not to say anything that could be taken out of context but still full of self-belief.

One of several players often referred to by local media as "the African Messi," not surprisingly he singles out Portugal's captain when asked who to look out for in Ghana's section.

"Obviously Ronaldo. He is one of the best players in the world but Germany have a lot of good players also, such as (Philipp) Lahm, so it would be nice to play against them," he says.

Accam's years of struggle in non-league football have taught him to be patient and if he makes Ghana's final squad he won't focus on using the World Cup to put himself in the shop window.

"For me it's not about thinking about clubs. It's about doing really well for my country and lifting the name of Ghana higher," he said. "That's the main thing for me, and if I do that the other things will follow."

($1 = 0.7302 Euros) (Reporting By Philip O'Connor; editing by Ken Ferris)

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