Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Tuesday 07 February 2012
Slowly but surely the end of the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations is coming into view. Tomorrow the last four teams take part in the two Semi-Final fixtures. Depending on the result it will lead either to an appearance in a Final and perhaps the opportunity of a career defining moment or having to take part in a game that no one wants to play in – the dreaded 3rd/4th Place Play-Off.
First up will be the game between Zambia and Ghana in Bata. The Zambians have crept into the Semi-Finals pretty much under the radar. They have got past this stage to play in two previous Finals, the first in 1974 and the second in1994. The 1974 tournament was held in Egypt and in the Final The Copper Bullets faced Zaire (who were later that year to take part in the World Cup in West Germany). The game went into extra-time (after it finished 1-1 in normal time). Zaire went 2-1 ahead, but Zambia equalised with virtually the last kick of the game and a replay was needed. Zaire proved too strong and took the cup in 1974 with a 2-0 win. Twenty years later in Tunisia, Zambia faced Nigeria in the Final, but a 2-1 score-line saw the Zambians finish as runners-up again.
They say you need a certain amount of luck in the Cup and Ghana will feel they had that in their last outing against Tunisia, when they were literally handed the game after a terrible goalkeeping error. The Black Stars have been billed as one of the favourites from the start of this competition, but have rarely shone so far. Their record in the Africa Cup of Nations is impressive with four wins (1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982), but will reflect that it is 30 years since that last triumph. The pressure will be on them to make it through and I’ll take them to get past Zambia in a close game that will require extra-time to separate the teams.
The second Semi-Final will see Mali take on Ivory Coast at the Stade d’Angondjé. Mali have appeared in a Final and that was back in 1972 in Cameroon, where they lost 3-2 to the Republic of Congo. The Eagles face an Ivory Coast squad that boasts the best CAF and FIFA ranking, but like Ghana have at times flattered to deceive. I didn’t tip Mali to get past Gabon in the Quarter-Finals, and really can’t see them getting past Ivory Coast on this occasion. The Elephants to go through 2-0, to set up a Final between Ivory Coast and Ghana.
If my predictions come to pass, then the Final will be a repeat of that which took place in 1992. The game finished 0-0 at full-time and extra-time couldn’t separate the teams either. So to penalties and it turned into a dramatic episode. The first seven penalties were successful and Ivory Coast led 4-3 as youngster Isaac Asare took the next for Ghana. He was unsuccessful and suddenly Ivory Coast had the chance to clinch the cup with the next kick. Joël Tiéhi took the kick, but couldn’t clinch his place in the football history of the Ivory Coast. Tony Yeboah (then of Eintracht Frankfurt, before his move to Leeds United) brought Ghana level at 4-4 and the drama continued as penalties moved into sudden-death. At 10-10 all the players had taken a penalty each and so Basile Aka Kouamé who had started the shoot-out for Ivory Coast prepared to take his second. He scored but Ghana keeper Ansah having gone the right way merely pushed the ball into the net to give The Elephants a 11-10 lead. Anthony Baffoe then had the task of making it level once more, but his effort was a very tired one and Gouamené in goal for The Elephants made a comfortable save and with it Ivory Coast had their first (and to date, only) Africa Cup of Nations title. Anybody for a repeat in 2012?