Tomorrow Game 31 of the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations takes place. And what is the significance of Game 31? Well it is the last one before the Final and is therefore by definition the 3rd/4th Place Play-Off fixture. It must be a difficult game for all involved. Fans generally have little interest in it and given that there have been some very low attendances in this tournament (even with free tickets and free transport being offered on occasions), it must be a worry for the organisers that the game tomorrow will be sparsely attended. Although one saving grace is that the game is in the 15,000 capacity stadium in Malabo and not one of the other bigger grounds.
For the coaches and managers what do they do about team selection? Do they approach it from the perspective of finishing the tournament with a win, the honour of finishing 3rd and of course the FIFA/CAF ranking points that come with it? Or do they give a game to the squad members that have had little or no involvement in the competition so far? It is a game to blood the younger players?
As for the players, well when I played, I always played to win, so I would expect those chosen to perform to the best of their ability and in a professional manner. They are playing for their country and they should be proud no matter the status of the fixture. However, what will be lurking in the back of their minds? Will the disappointment of not making the Final be an overwhelming thought that hampers performance? Will they be worried about getting injured in a ‘meaningless’ game before returning to their clubs?
Perhaps it comes down to expectation. For instance given that Ghana were amongst the favourites for the tournament is finishing 3rd/4th enough for the Ghanaian Football Association? Is the coaches job and the future international careers of the players under threat? The circumstances for Mali are possibly different. Did they believe they could make it this far? For the team ranked 15 in the CAF ratings (Ghana are 2), it has been some achievement. So the pressure is all on The Black Stars it seems. Only tomorrow will tell though how the respective teams approach the game