From Twerton Park to Qatar - Antoine Semenyo’s ‘surreal’ journey to World Cup with Ghana

Bristol City striker Antoine Semenyo almost didn’t answer Ghan’a’s ca

Antoine Semenyo says he was sceptical to pick up the phone but was glad he did after receiving the news he would be a part of Ghana's World Cup squad. The Bristol City striker has been named in Otto Addo's 26-man squad that will head out to Qatar shortly.

Semenyo was in bed when he received a phone call from an unknown number. It turned out to be George Boateng, a former midfielder of Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Hull City. Boateng was ringing from Ghana as he and the coaching staff of the Black Stars continued their preparations for the upcoming tournament. It was to bring him the good news that he would be part of their plans and part of their 26-man squad which was whittled down from 55 names.

Boateng, along with former Brighton & Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton, Ghana's technical director, are based in England and have been watching Semenyo before and after he played for Ghana. They have provided advice to Semenyo after every match and that has been taken on board, enough so that they think that he should represent them at world football's biggest tournament.

He said: "I woke up and got a number from a Ghana number and I wasn’t sure and I was sceptical about picking it up. The assistant coach said I had been selected.

"It felt so surreal. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. I thought it was a fake number at one stage. When he told me I was so excited and rolling around in my bed and I was so happy. It’s all the hard work that has gone in to it.

“You don’t get so many memories like this, it’s so surreal I am talking about going to the World Cup. I never imagined getting this far.”

It has been a tough road for Semenyo, who was dealt many setbacks early in his career. Originally based in London, he had trials at Arsenal and Tottenham, as well as Swindon Town, but was unsuccessful. He later relocated to SGS College, ran by former Forest Green Rovers boss David Hockaday. He’s not looked back since and was signed by City in 2017.

Four years ago at the World Cup in Russia, Semenyo had just concluded a loan spell with Bath City at Twerton Park, scoring three goals with the National League South side. As well as setbacks in getting to a club, Semenyo has had to deal with injuries through his time at the club.

He missed a chunk of this season after sustaining an injury whilst on international duty but has been able to get himself into a position to start regularly. Semenyo is now in the best condition possible for the World Cup and believes he did his ‘bit’ to earn the call from Addo.

He said: “It’s a long journey. Funnily enough I was speaking with friends from home recently and saying the journey from college to here has been so crazy. You’ve got to work hard, be resilient and you have to graft and it gets you to these places, so I am happy.

“It’s not easy, it’s very tough and you’ve got all the competition. You have to work hard and do your bits maybe it’s scoring or assisting. You need to do your bit to get selected. I’ve done enough.

“The injuries have been tough but I’ve massively prepared myself to work hard to make sure I come back better and stronger. I study my game and be the best I can be, I have done enough to get where I am now so I have to keep going.”

The potential of playing at a World Cup is a moment that will want to be shared with all those closest to you and it is one that Semenyo is hoping to share with his family. Semenyo’s father Larry is from Ghana and was a footballer himself, playing as a midfielder in the Ghana Premier League. Playing for his dad’s country of birth was a ‘dream’ as a child and his motivation to switch to them was fuelled by the love for his Ghanian roots.

“Football in Ghana is massive,” Semenyo stated. “When we get an opportunity to be on the world stage like this. The population are going to be supporting us. We’re doing it for them as well as ourselves. I’m happy they are supporting us and we’ll do the best we can.

“The family will be out there for sure, 100 percent. I’m trying to get a few of them out there, that is in the pipeline.

Asked what it is about Ghana that Semenyo likes so much, he responded: “Tradition, food and just family being out there. It’s the main thing really. I love being around them. The dancing and the parties. It’s all nice, but being around family and traditional food it’s the best. “

Ghana are hoping to perform better at a major tournament than their last involvement after going out in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations. It has a population of over 31 million people and its contribution to football in recent memory can be remembered by their run in the 2010 World Cup. Former Sunderland striker Asomah Gyan led the way as they reached the quarter-finals, eventually losing to Uruguay.

Uruguay are in Ghana’s group again and they will play also against Heung min-Son’s South Korea, as well as Portugal, who have Manchester United stars Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“It’s going to be a tough one to be honest with you. You’ve got top quality teams, I think we are up there as well. I feel we can give them a challenge so we’re going to work hard, play our game and hopefully cause an upset.

“The dream is to win, we always want to win,” outlined Semenyo in his ambitions for the upcoming weeks. “Getting to the Round of 16 or the final eight is definitely the target. I will try and get as many goals as I can.”