2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Sunday 10 February 2013

Third/Fourth Place Play-Off


Mali (1) 3 – 1 (0) Ghana

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth


Mali_FAIt might have been a wet old night in Port Elizabeth and in front of a crowd of just 6,000, but those who braved the weather were treated to an entertaining game. Neither side made wholesale changes to their line-ups, as both teams looked to clinch Third Place in the 2012 AFCON competition.

Ghana were soon into their stride as fullback Richard Kissi Boateng threatened down the wing and Asamoah Gyan had an early attempt on goal which cleared the Mali bar. However, the Malians responded soon after and Samassa’s effort on goal was easily gathered by Dauda the Ghanaian keeper. On twenty one minutes Mamadou Samassa did find a way past Dauda as he dived to head home a cross from marauding fullback Adama Tamboura. The first-half action was end-to-end as Asamoah and Wakaso both had chances to bring Ghana level; with Mali then almost taking a 2-0 advantage, when Samassa saw his effort hit the post just before half-time.

Into the second-half, Mali took control of the game within three minutes of the restart. Mamadou Samassa muscled his way down the right wing and was able to get a cross into the penalty box, where Seydou Keita comfortably side footed home. On fifty eight minutes Ghana got an opportunity to get back in the game when they were awarded a penalty for handball. Wakaso who had already scored three penalties in the 2013 tournament then proceeded to horribly blast this attempt over the bar. It wasn’t until the eighty second minute that Ghana got a goal back, when Mali keeper Diakite badly misjudged a long distance swerving effort from Asamoah. As Ghana went in search of an equaliser, they were caught on the break in time added-on when Sigamary Diarra expertly volleyed home a long through ball.

So Mali 3-1 winners at the end, a result they deserved to clinch Third Place for the second consecutive AFCON tournament. The last CAF Rankings prior to the competition had Mali at three and Ghana at four, which was how they finished here. Pre-tournament, the bookies had Ghana as second favourites at 6/1 to take the title, with Mali out at 14/1. Both countries can be fairly satisfied with what they achieved, however some may question whether Ghana like Ivory Coast have once again not dealt with the pressure of being amongst the favourites.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Friday 08 February 2013

Third/Fourth Place Play-Off

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

Ghana v Mali

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

It’s the fixture that no team really wants to have to take part in; the game for the two losing Semi-Finalists. At least however the teams won’t have to endure playing the game on the truly dreadful surface at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit or have it officiated by Slim Jedidi.

Ghana finished Third in 2008 and Fourth in 1996 & 2012. Mali finished Third in 2012 and Fourth in 1994, 2002 & 2004. Nigeria are the Third Place ‘champions’ having claimed that title on no less than seven occasions.

Mali and Ghana have already faced each other in the competition in a Group B fixture, which Ghana won with a first-half Wakaso Mubarak penalty in the same stadium as they play again tomorrow. Whether the respective line-ups will be the same remains to be seen, as it may be used as an occasion to give a game to those who have yet to start or had little playing time in the tournament. The winners though will be a historical footnote to the 2013 AFCON competition. The last five Third/Fourth Place Play-Off games were as follows:

2012 AFCON – South Africa: Mali 2 – 0 Ghana

2010 AFCON – Angola: Nigeria 1 – 0 Algeria

2008 AFCON – Ghana: Ghana 4 – 2 Ivory Coast

2006 AFCON – Egypt: Nigeria 1 – 0 Senegal

2004 AFCON – Tunisia: Nigeria 2 – 1 Mali

Good luck to the two teams; here’s hoping that playing for pride produces a reasonable game.


2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Thursday 07 February 2013


Mali (0) 1 – 4 (3) Nigeria

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

This was a pretty clinical display by Nigeria and a game that was over by half-time. The Super Eagles were able to exploit a Mali defence that looked very square and static. Nigeria went ahead on twenty five minutes, as Victor Moses twisted and turned out on the right-hand side. As the cross came in the four Mali defensive players stopped which allowed Echiéjilé to stoop low and head in. Just five minutes later the lead was doubled, as Emmanuel Emenike crossed from the right for Brown Ideye to slide in. Everything was going the way of the rampant Nigerian’s and on forty four minutes a Emenike free-kick was deflected by Momo Sissoko for an own-goal to make the score 3-0.

Into the second-half, Mali had a chance straight away to get back in the game but Seydou Keita dragged his effort from inside the box wide of the post. A final nail in the coffin arrived on the hour when Musa Ahmed was played in behind the Mali defence and he nut-megged the keeper for a 4-0 lead. Ahmed thought he had a second just three minutes later but it was ruled out for offside. As Nigeria eased off, Mali got a consolation goal on seventy five minutes through Cheick Diarra. Indeed it was the best period of the game for the Malians as Vincent Enyeama in the Nigerian goal made good saves from Cheick Diarra and Cheick Diabate. However, Nigeria were the better team and deserved the victory on the night.


Burkina Faso (0) 1 – 1 (1) Ghana AET

(Burkina Faso won 3-2 on penalties)

Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

In a week which has seen the release of the Europol document highlighting match fixing in football, there were decisions in this game that must have raised an eye-brow and might set the alarm-bells ringing at CAF and beyond. To say that Tunisian referee Slim Jedidi was incompetent would be an understatement. Virtually from the off, the referee got the major decisions wrong. Within the opening five minutes, Jonathan Pitroipa with ball at his feet went into the penalty box and was blatantly bundled over by Ghana’s John Boye; decision – no penalty. Then on thirteen minutes, a ball is lofted into the Burkina Faso box, where Mady Panandetiguiri of Burkina Faso jumps with Ghana’s Christian Atsu. Minimal contact is made, but after Atsu falls to the ground as a result of the 50/50 challenge, Ghana are inexplicably awarded a penalty. Mubarak Wakaso converts and as in the Cape Verde game The Black Stars are controversially ahead. To their credit The Stallions didn’t let it affect their game and as the half went on created chances with Jonathan Pitroipa and Prejuce Nakoulma prominent for Burkina Faso. Ghana too had chances with the best falling to Solomon Asante just before the break.

On the hour the game was level at 1-1, as Ghana lost possession, Charles Kaboré threaded the ball through for Aristides Bance to wrong-foot the keeper. In the remaining thirty minutes neither side could find a winner, so extra-time ensued. It proved to be a highly controversial period with referee Slim Jedidi back in the spotlight. With the first period of time almost up, following a ball into the box, Burkina Faso’s Prejuce Nakoulma was shoulder to shoulder with Ghana’s Kwadwo Asamoah, but managed to poke the ball past Dauda in the Ghanaian goal. There seemed nothing wrong with the goal yet the referee disallowed it. Further controversy followed when with four minutes remaining Jonathan Pitroipa was clearly hacked down in the box; not only is a dead-cert penalty not awarded, but Pitroipa is booked for diving and sent-off as it was his second yellow card. Slim Jedidi – more like Slim Shady. So penalties came to pass and The Stallions must have thought given how their luck had been that an exit on penalties would add to the cruelty. However, justice was done as Burkina Faso took the shoot-out 3-2. Vorsah and Clottey missed horribly for Ghana, with Agyemang-Badu having his effort saved by Diakite. Just twelve months ago Burkina Faso lost all three of their Group games at the 2012 AFCON Finals, now they are one game from taking the title.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Wednesday 06 February 2013


Mali v Nigeria

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

Going into this tournament Mali were ranked third within CAF and Nigeria at ninth. Despite the higher ranking for Mali, the bookies favour Nigeria ahead of this fixture. In the previous six meetings between the countries, three have been drawn and Nigeria won the other three. Nigeria are one of the ‘giants’ of African football and have qualified for seventeen AFCON Finals (including 2013), whilst this is the eighth Finals for Mali. Although both teams finished as runners-up in their respective Groups this time round, the victory in the Quarter-Finals achieved by Nigeria over favourites Ivory Coast, was a more impressive and convincing win than that achieved by Mali, who came through on penalties against hosts South Africa. Mali coach Patrice Carteron has tried to play some management mind-games by stating that The Super Eagles are the favourites with players such as Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, and John Obi Mikel. Mali showed character to come back from 1-0 against South Africa, so will not be overawed by Nigeria and have quality players of their own, in the shape of Seydou Keita and Cheick Diabaté. However, with Nigeria having put out AFCON favourites Ivory Coats, they may just have too much for Mali.


Burkina Faso v Ghana

Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

Burkina Faso were ranked in twenty third spot with Ghana in fourth for the CAF Ranking prior to the 2013 AFCON Finals. These two have played each other on four occasions. Ghana have won three to one victory for Burkina Faso. The last game between the countries took place in Angola at the 2010 AFCON Finals. In a Group B game, a goal from Andre Ayew on thirty minutes gave Ghana a 1-0 victory. The Black Stars went on to reach the Final, where they lost 1-0 to Egypt. This is Ghana’s nineteenth appearance at the Finals, with Burkina Faso having been in nine. In the Quarter-Finals, Ghana beat Cape Verde 2-0, but had more than their fair share of the ‘rub of the green’. Burkina Faso had to endure extra-time in overcoming Togo 1-0 with a goal from Jonathan Pitroipa. With Ivory Coasty out, the bookies have Ghana now installed as tournament favourites and despite their unconvincing victory over Cape Verde, it is difficult to see them not making it through to the Final.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Sunday 03 February 2013



Ghana (0) 2 – 0 (0) Cape Verde

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

The final score says that in the end there was no fairy-tale for underdogs Cape Verde. However, they may consider themselves unlucky to be exiting the competition. In the opening forty-five  minutes, Cape Verde more than held their own and had the best of the limited chances that were created, when on a couple of occasions, Heldon shot high and wide when well placed. Ghana keeper Duada was also called upon to intercept a low driven cross that had Soares waiting to pounce. 0-0 at half-time with The Blue Sharks more content with their opening forty-five minutes than Ghana. Unfortunately for Cape Verde, they fell behind on fifty-four minutes to a most dubious penalty. Ghana skipper Asamoah Gyan went down after a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge with Carlitos and despite protests from the Cape Verde players the referee awarded a penalty. Substitute Wakaso smashed it in straight down the middle of the goal and undeservedly, The Black Stars were ahead. The goal did not deflate Cape Verde and they created a number of excellent chances. Ghana keeper Duada denied Cape Verde an equaliser on a number of occasions, with the pick of the saves from efforts by substitute Platini and Djaniny. With the game deep into time added on, Cape Verde keeper Vozinha came up for a corner, however as the effort was cleared, Wakaso ran onto the ball and was able to slot into an empty net to give Ghana a 2-0 win. The exit for Cape Verde, given the nature of their defeat felt slightly unjust. However, they will long be remembered for being one of the bright moments of the 2013 AFCON tournament. Ghana progress, but on this performance look far from title winning material.


South Africa (1) 1 – 1 (0) Mali AET

(Mali won 3-1 on penalties)

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

The dreaded football foe that is the penalty shoot-out claimed its first victim as hosts South Africa went out in their Quarter-Final against Mali. Bafana Bafana had dominated the first-half and took the lead on thirty one minutes. It was an end-to-end move from South Africa, which started when keeper Khune fed Mahlangu, who drove at the Mali defence, before playing the ball out wide left to Thuso Phala. The Mali defence pulled across too many players, which allowed Tokelo Rantie in plenty of space and with an easy finish from just outside the six yard box, following Phala’s cross. Into the second-half, South Africa started the opening ten minutes on the front foot, but were unable to create a second goal. Instead, Mali started to find a way back into the match and on fifty eight minutes were level. Mahamadou Samassa got out wide on the left and crossed into the box, with three South African players in attendance there looked to be no real threat, but they all inexplicably stopped in their tracks allowing Seydou Keita a free header from six yards out. The crowd in Durban were stunned and it certainly seemed to drain the confidence of the home team, as they rarely threatened in the remaining thirty minutes of normal time. Mali looked the stronger of the teams, without creating a match winning chance. Extra-time couldn’t separate the teams and so it was down to penalties. South Africa took the first and Siphiwe Tshabalala put them 1-0 up, however that was to be their only success as So Diakite saved the efforts of Furman, Mahlangu and Majoro missed. Mali only needed three attempts which were converted by Cheick Tidiane Diabate, Tamboura and Mahamane Traore. Mali probably just about deserved to go through, but it was cruel on the hosts.


Ivory Coast v Nigeria

Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg

The competition favourites Ivory Coast are unbeaten after two wins gained against Togo and Tunisia and a draw with Algeria, in their Group games. Their qualification to this stage is no surprise and it is not something they have struggled with in recent tournaments. However, they carry the nagging burden that despite the array of talent at their disposal over the years they have only ever been champions once (1992). Nigeria are also unbeaten having drawn with Burkina Faso and Zambia and beaten Ethiopia to claim a Quarter-Final place. Like Ivory Coast, Nigeria are one of the ‘big’ names in African football, appearing at four of the last five World Cup Finals. However, The Super Eagles have not translated the success on the World stage into AFCON wins, with only two titles in 1980 and 1994. This is a clash of African football ‘heavyweights’, with talent on both sides. It’s a tight one to call; my hope is that there is a winner in normal time.


Burkina Faso v Togo

Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

The pity for the last of the Quarter-Final games is that it is to be played on the very poor pitch at Nelspruit. However, the conditions are the same for both sides and they will know what to expect having played their during the Group stages. Burkina Faso won Group C after draws with Nigeria and Zambia and an emphatic 4-0 win over Ethiopia. Togo came through on goal-difference after losing their opening game to Ivory Coast, beating Algeria and finishing with a draw against Tunisia. Burkina Faso will start as slight favourites against a Togo team making their first ever appearance in the Quarter-Finals of the AFCON.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Saturday 02 February 2013


Going into the knock-out stage the bookies see the odds for the final eight teams as follows:

Ivory Coast 11/10, Ghana 7/2, South Africa 8/1, Nigeria 9/1, Mali 11/1, Burkina Faso 12/1, Togo 16/1, Cape Verde 25/1.


Ghana v Cape Verde

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

The bookies odds tell us who the winner should be, the latest CAF Rankings back up that outcome, as does logic. However, Ghana know they can take nothing for granted as they take on Cape Verde. At the 2012 AFCON The Black Stars were comfortable favourites to come through their Semi-Final against Zambia. However, the footballing Gods decreed otherwise and Ghana went out. Today, Ghana come into the game unbeaten after a draw with Congo DR (2-2) and wins over Mali (1-0) and Niger (3-0). Cape Verde are also unbeaten having drawn two games, against South Africa (0-0) and Morocco (1-1) and won their final fixture with a late goal from Heldon to beat Angola 2-1 and progress to the Quarter-Finals. Ghana will have to carry all the weight and expectation that being firm favourites bring. The Blue Sharks have nothing to lose and have proved in the Group fixtures that they are an organised side with some skill to match in players such as Platini. The AFCON has shown in the previous few tournaments that it is not kind to the favourites. Is there another shock in store today?


South Africa v Mali

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

Whilst Ghana will be carrying the burden that being amongst the favourites brings, South Africa have to manage the expectation and pressure of being the host nation. Bafana Bafana are unbeaten after draws Cape Verde (0-0) and Morocco (2-2) and a 2-0 win over Angola. Mali are playing against a background of military action in their homeland, which could either act as a massive distraction or as motivation to bring some good news to the troubled country. The Malians won their opening Group game against Niger (1-0), lost to Ghana 1-0 in their next fixture, but secured a Quarter-Final spot after a 1-1 with Congo DR. Mali see themselves as underdogs going into the fixture, but it is too close to call. Could this one go to penalties?

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Tuesday 29 January 2013

Group B:

Niger (0) 0 – 3 (2) Ghana

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

This game was as straightforward as the final score suggests. Ghana were ahead within six minutes, when Albert Adomah was able to get behind the Niger defence to pull back the ball for Asamoah Gyan, who lashed it home from the edge of the six-yard box. There was however, a controversial moment on ten minutes, when Niger had a goal disallowed after the referee adjudged Moussa Maazou to have fouled Ghana keeper Dauda. It did look harsh and with that went the last major threat Niger posed during the game. On twenty three minutes, The Black Stars doubled their advantage; with the Niger defence back-pedalling Asamoah Gyan was able to cross to Christian Atsu, who controlled the ball on his chest before poking into the net as Niger defender Kourouma comically fell over, making the finish even easier. Ghana strolled to half-time with the game all but over at 2-0. Within four minutes of the second-half, the game was killed off when from a free-kick Asamoah Gyan’s header was spilled by Daouda and John Boye scored with the simplest of tap-ins. Ghana created further chances, but it was a comfortable 3-0 victory as one of the tournament favourites finished top of Group B.


Congo DR (1) 1 – 1 (1) Mali

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

This was the game in Group B that held all the interest, as the two sides were playing for second spot and progress to the Quarter-Finals. Mali knew that a draw would be enough, whist Congo DR had to win. Congo were positive from kick-off and hit the post in the opening minute from Lomana LuaLua. However, they didn’t have to wait long to actually go ahead as they were awarded a penalty on three minutes when Yves Diba was brought down by Momo Sissoko. Dieumerci Mbokani confidently converted the spot-kick to give Congo DR a 1-0 advantage and of course enabled keeper Robert Kidiaba to give the best goal celebration of the tournament so far, another airing. However, in a frantic opening fifteen minutes, Mali were soon on level terms. It was in truth a scruffy goal as Congo DR didn’t deal with the ball in the box and Mahamadou Samassa was able to finish from just outside the six-yard area. That goal meant Mali were back in second spot, but the game still had seventy five minutes to run. The pace of the game did not let up, but it became quite physical for a time as Youssouf Mulumbu and Seydou Keita received yellow cards. However, there were no more goals as the teams went in at the break at 1-1. Congo DR started the second period by bringing on striker Tresor Mputu, however Mali were proving to be well organised in dealing with the attacking threat of their opponents. As the half went on, it gained the ebb and flow that it had in the first period. However, as the game entered the last ten minutes it was Mali who looked the more likely to score as they hit the post on two occasions. First, a header from substitute Kalilou glanced off the right-hand post; then fellow substitute Cheick Diabate hit the post after rounding Congo DR keeper Robert Kidiaba. Into time added-on another chance fell to Mali as after a one-two Seydou Keita had his shot saved by Kidiaba. At the whistle there were scenes of joy and despair; Mali celebrated as they made it through, whilst the unbeaten Congo DR departed, deeply disappointed after three draws meant they were out.



(1) Ghana, (2) Mali, (3) Congo DR, (4) Niger

Final Standings:

(1) Ghana, (2) Mali, (3) Congo DR, (4) Niger


Group C:

Burkina Faso v Zambia – Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

Ethiopia v Nigeria – Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg

Like the final round of games in Group A, those in Group C could also see a dramatic climax. Zambia the 2012 AFCON Champions know that they must beat Burkina Faso to ensure they make it through to the knock-out stage, whilst opponents Burkina Faso need only a draw to go through. Nigeria could go through with a draw if Burkina Faso beat Zambia, but would definitely qualify if they beat Ethiopia. The Ethiopians could progress as well, but that would require them beating Nigeria and hope that Zambia and Burkina Faso draw. My gut feeling is that Nigeria will get the win they need to go through to the Quarter-Finals, and that Zambia will exit the tournament after only drawing with Burkina Faso.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Sunday 20 January 2013

Group A: National Stadium, Johannesburg.

South Africa (0) 0 – 0 (0) Cape Verde

The twenty ninth African Cup of Nations has started, but with a whimper rather than a bang. In drizzly conditions, hosts South Africa and their opponents Cape Verde served up a pretty uninspiring 0-0 draw. In the first-half South Africa didn’t create a decent effort on goal as they stuck to a long-ball game. The only real chance in the opening forty five minutes fell to the Cape Verde midfielder Platini on the quarter hour mark, but he scuffed his shot horribly wide after being put through on goal. Indeed, Cape Verde looked more comfortable on the ball than the hosts and Mendes and Heldon were creating problems for the South African defence. Despite ringing the changes in the second-half, the home team didn’t improve significantly much to the frustration of Coach Gordon Igesund. As in the opening half the only real chance was created by Cape Verde, when midway through the second-half, Heldon’s header was clawed away by Khune in the South African goal. That was pretty much it as the game petered out towards full-time. A disappointing opener, but things can only get better.


Angola (0) 0 – 0 (0) Morocco

With many of the crowd having gone from the National Stadium, either due to the weather or as a result of the uninspiring display from the hosts, it was left to Angola and Morocco to entertain those who remained. The opening quarter of an hour provided more entertainment than in the previous ninety as Moroccan keeper saved well from Mingo Bille’s shot in the opening minutes, which was followed by two decent chances for Morocco from Mounir El Hamdaoui and Oussama Assaidi. However, in the remainder of the half, little else was created as Angola contained the Moroccan threat going forward. Angola nearly made a perfect start in the second-half, when Moroccan keeper Lamyaghri dropped a cross, but substitute Guilherme Afonso put his effort wide. Guiherme made a difference to Angola going forward in the second period, but despite some patches of enterprising play, neither side could find a winner and Group A had its second 0-0 of the day.


Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth


Group B: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth.

Ghana v Congo DR

After the disappointment of the opening games yesterday, all eyes will turn to Ghana and Congo DR to get the tournament started. Ghana (The Black Stars) are amongst the favourites to win the competition, but that expectation can be a burden as it proved in the 2012 AFCON tournament when they exited in the Semi-Finals to Zambia. However, The Black Stars have looked accomplished in their warm-up games in January after beating Egypt (3-0) and Tunisia (4-2). Their opponents today as Congo DR (The Leopards), who football fans of a certain era will remember, were the first black African side to qualify for a World Cup Finals tournament. The country was then known as Zaire and they took part in the 1974 competition in West Germany. Going into this game all the talk has centred on whether Coach Claude LeRoy is still in charge of the side which will have done little to help preparations for this game. Given this, expect Ghana to score the first goals of the 2013 AFCON tournament and take the three points.


Mali v Niger

Mali (Les Aigles – The Eagles), come into the tournament high in the CAF Rankings, but less favoured by the bookmakers. Their cause hasn’t been helped by the fact that they haven’t played any warm-up games, as Mali were unable to get the release of their European players for the games. In qualifying The Eagles comfortably overcame Botswana 7-1 on aggregate. Their opponents today, Niger (Ménas – Gazelles) are the rank outsiders in this competition. However, they put out Guinea (2-1 on aggregate) in qualification, and in their warm-up games beat Togo 3-1 and drew 0-0 with Burkinso Faso. Mali should not underestimate Niger, as any overconfidence could see the Ménas take a point. The Eagles should win today, but Niger will make them work for it.


Prediction: (1) Ghana, (2) Mali, (3) Congo DR, (4) Niger

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Saturday 11 February 2012

3rd/4th Place Play-off

Ghana (0) 0 – 2 (1) Mali [Cheick Diabate, 23 mins, 80 mins]

Nuevo Estadio de Malabo.

Both Mali and Ghana had experience of the 3rd/4th Place Play-Off fixture from previous Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. Prior to today, Mali had played in this fixture on three occasions and The Eagles were yet to register a win. In 1994 in Tunisia, Mali lost 3-1 to Ivory Coast, in 2002 when they hosted the tournament they lost 1-0 to Nigeria and two years later lost again to the Nigerians, this time 2-1 in Tunisia. Ghana have played in the play-off fixture on two previous occasions, losing to Zambia in 1996 in South Africa, but did take 3rd spot in 2008, when as hosts they overcame Ivory Coast 4-2.

Ghana and Mali had already played each in the 2012 tournement having met in the second round of group games. On that occasion two second-half goals had seen The Black Stars emerge as 2-0 winners. Ahead of the fixture today, both sides had been hit by injuries and suspensions which affected team selection and meant that each team had six starters from that group game selected for this play-off fixture. In a tournament which has had its fair share of shocks, the 3rd/4th Place Play-off saw the underdog again have the last bark. Mali emerged 2-0 winners with goals either side of the break from Cheick Diabate. The first after 23 minutes was a tap-in from inside the six yard box after Ghana keeper Kwarasey could only palm away a shot from Samba Diakite. The Black Stars cause wasn’t helped when Isaac Vorsah was sent off mid-way through the second-half. With ten minutes remaining, Mali sealed the win as in a break-away Adama Tamboura crossed to Cheick Diabate for his second poachers finish from close range. Mali deserved winners 2-0, whilst a disappointing finish for Ghana, who looked a shadow of the team that had shone in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Friday 10 February 2012

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