After an eventful three weeks in Equatorial Guinea that has featured both sides of the African game, the tournament is set to draw to an end today with the grand finale in Malabo- kick off at 1900 GMT.
Amidst all the great goals, poor officiating, bumpy pitches, and crowd trouble; two teams have proven to be head and shoulders above everyone else. It’s those two, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; who would go head-to-head for the African crown in tomorrow’s game.
Both teams have had eerily similar campaigns. They both breezed through qualifying, but then had the slowest of starts to the competition. Both topped their groups, and then went on to win both the quarter and semi finals by scoring three goals in each game.
Aside the similarity in their progress in this tournament, the biggest backdrop to this clash of giants is the history behind this clash. Amidst the plethora of matches the two teams have contested in, none looms larger than the 1992 African Cup Final in Senegal.
That contest in Dakar ended with Cote d’Ivoire lifting the trophy after penalties, their first and only AFCON win to date. That Black Stars team was led by- excluding the final where he was unable to play due to suspension- Ghana’s soccer maestro Abedi Ayew Pele.
It was a painful defeat, especially as Ghana had a very star studded team who was everyone’s favourites. A little over twenty years later, a chance has popped up for Ghana to avenge that defeat.
The Black Stars have been steadily improving over the course of the tournament, and since that first round loss have scarcely looked back. They are genuinely improving game by game, each performance somehow supplanting the sublime one that came before.
The semi-final against Equatorial Guinea was a particularly telling performance, as it occurred without the presence of the team’s all time scorer and leader Asamoah Gyan. Every facet of the team seem to be working in unison, and for the first time since 2010 it looks like we have a team once again, and not a collection of individuals.
A large part of the credit has to go to Avram Grant, who has got his team playing as a unit, and has already achieved in a little over a month what Kwesi Appiah could not do in two years. Whenever a team is playing for their manager it is visible in their performances, and that can clearly be seen of this team.
Irrespective of the positives of this team, they still have to surmount the hurdle of Cote d’Ivoire. The Ivorians themselves are having a tournament similar to Ghana, a poor start followed by increasingly sequential improvement game after game.
Coached by former Ghana assistant coach Renard Herve, the Frenchman has built a side that is as efficient as any of his former sides. At Zambia, and now with Cote d’Ivoire, Renard’s sides give little space to their opponents, and are masters at hitting you with lighting quick counter attacks that leave you reeling without knowing what exactly hit you.
Better still, he now has the star power to match most other sides in the world. In Yaya Toure, he has the best player on the continent; his brother Kolo, Gervinho, and Wilifired Bony making a quartet of four of the most recognisable names in world football.
This combination poses a big threat to Ghana’s chance of lifting our fifth Nations Cup, the first since 1982.
It will be our biggest challenge yet at these finals, and a chance to avenge an historical defeat to boot. Seeing as how both sides have lost a final within the past three tournaments, there would be extra incentive not to lose; and a tense evening of football awaits everyone in Malabo tomorrow night.
Abedi Pele was captain in 1992 when he had to watch his side lose a painful final on penalties. Two decades later, his two sons have the chance to be at the forefront of the revenge mission; Andre, de-facto leader of this side, and the much maligned Jordan Ayew.
There is little doubt about the line-up, save whether skipper Gyan would make it back on time. The defence has been impressive, not having conceded since the 17th minute of the game against South Africa. Wakaso and Afriyie Acquah make up Fort Knox in defensive midfield; whilst upfront the interchangeable trio of Andre, Atsu, and Appiah make the job of whoever sits ahead of them as dreamy as possible.
Hopefully, every single one of them would be on point today, so we are able to hoist our first trophy in 33 years; it has been a long wait.
Just one last win for Grant’s blue polo shirt tomorrow….
Action starts at 1900 GMT, join us here on GhanaCelebrities.Com for live commentary and updates on the game.