Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Wednesday 08 February 2012

Zambia (1) – (0) Ghana (Staid de Bata)

Mali (0) – (1) Ivory Coast (Stade d’Angondjé)

Congratulations to Zambia and Ivory Coast. Commiserations to Ghana and Mali. Both games settled in ninety minutes and both by a single goal. However, that doesn’t begin to tell the story of another dramatic night in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

In Bata Zambia and Ghana were the first game of the day. The game hinged around two key moments and an old football adage. The first key moment came on 8 minutes when Ghana were awarded a penalty. Asamoah Gyan took the spot-kick and he went for placement rather than power. Unfortunately for Ghana, Zambian keeper Mweene went the right way and saved with his left hand. After their 2010 World Cup exit on penalties and now this, perhaps The Black Stars are starting to develop the English penalty phobia. The second key moment came on 78 minutes. Emmanuel Mayuka received the ball on the edge of the Ghanaian box with his back to goal, he created some space for himself to turn and although surrounded by white Ghanaian shirts managed to curl in a shot which nestled in the net after clipping the post. To paraphrase David Coleman, “Zambia…one nil”. Finally, the old football adage, “…you have to take your chances…”. Having missed a penalty Ghana did create plenty more opportunities. Certainly Kennedy Mweene had an excellent game in goal for Zambia, but Ghana were wasteful upfront and they paid the price when Mayuka scored the winner for Zambia. The Black Stars wait for another tournament win continues, whilst Zambia keep defying the odds.

With one of the favourites gone, Ivory Coast would have been nervously eyeing their opponents Mali as the game kicked-off. Ivory Coast like Ghana created plenty of chances in the opening half and must have been wondering if they would also suffer the same fate as The Black Stars as a goal eluded them. However, with half-time approaching, Gervinho produced one of the goals of the competition. He collected the ball in his own half and then beat Mali defender Ousmane Berthe. Gervinho then ran the length of the Mali half to cut into the box and calmly finish past Soumaila Diakite. In the second-half The Elephants did what they have done in previous games in this tournament and basically absorbed the threat of the opposition and comfortably held on to their single goal win.

There is a break now until Saturday, when the 3rd/4th place play-off game between Ghana and Mali takes place in Malabo and then Sunday the Final itself, when Ivory Coast take on Zambia. 

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?

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Sunday 05 February 2012

Gabon (1) – (1) Mali (AET: Mali won 5-4 on penalties) [Stade d’Angondjé]

Ghana (2) – (1) Tunisia (AET) [Stade de Franceville]

Yesterday I tipped the two “G’s” (Gabon and Ghana) to complete the Semi-Final line-up, but only came up with one out of two tonight.

In the case of Gabon, “G” stood for “Going, going, gone”, as there was no dream of progress for The Panthers and as a result both co-hosts exited at the Quarter-Final stage. However, it all looked so promising in Libreville, when after an even first-half, Gabon took the lead on 55 minutes with a goal best described as a comedy of errors. Gabon launched a free-kick into the Mali penalty area which was badly misjudged by Mali as they tried to clear. The ball fell to Gabon forward Aubameyang who cut the ball back into the box where it was  missed by the Mali defence. The ball ran to Eric Mouloungui who drove the it towards goal and which found its way in after a deflection from two Mali players who were more effective in getting in each others way, rather than blocking the goal-bound effort. Gabon went in search of a second and captain Daniel Cousin hit the post when it was easier to score. The clock ticked down and it looked like Gabon were edging their way to the Semi-Final. Then with six minutes remaining, a ball into the Gabon box was headed back towards the penalty spot by Modibo Maiga. Substitute Tidiane Diabate with his back to goal, controlled, turned and fired under the body of Didier Ovono in the Gabon goal. Mali were level mainly through great skill by Diabate, but the finger will be pointed at Ovono, in that he should have kept the shot out. Extra-time came and went and suddenly it was the drama and agony of penalties. Six successful penalties had the scores at 3-3 as Gabon’s star performer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stepped-up. His kick was saved and the advantage shifted to Mali. Bakaye Traoré coolly put Mali 4-3 up, but Gabon stayed in the tie as Ecuele Manga casually chipped in his penalty to level the score at 4-4. It all came down to Seydou Keita who with calmness passed his spot-kick left footed into the net. It was a lesson in penalty taking and England fans will hope Fabio Capello was taking note! Despair for Gabon and elation for Mali. The Eagles were through and have the dubious pleasure of facing Ivory Coast in the Semi-Final. For now though it will be about enjoying the moment.

For Ghana is was a case of “G” for “Gift”, a gift that only came to fruition in extra-time. The prospect of extra-time didn’t look on the cards early on when The Black Stars made a lightening start and were 1-0 up against Tunisia within ten minutes. From a corner taken by Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Ghana skipper John Mensah muscled out the Tunisian defence to head in. Ghana continued to press and a second goal seemed likely. With half-time looming and Ghana cruising, against the run of play, Tunisia scored three minutes before the break. A speculative cross into the box was headed home by Saber Khelifa who attacked the ball with more purpose than the Ghanaian defender. The second-half couldn’t separate the teams and so as with the earlier game it was extra-time. The “gift” arrived just over ten minutes into the first period of extra-time. Agyemang Badu looked like he had wasted a good attacking position, when he over hit a cross. However, Tunisian keeper Aymen Mathlouthi inexplicably tried to take the cross as it was sailing out of play. He failed to gather the ball and instead knocked it into the path of Andre Ayew who gratefully slotted home to give Ghana the lead 2-1. It was quite simply the keeping clanger of the tournament and Mathlouthi cost his team dearly. Into the second period of extra-time, Tunisia lost their composure as Aymen Abdennour was sent-off for elbowing an opponent and Oussama Darragi was lucky not to reduce Tunisia to nine men with an ugly challenge. It was a shame that the game finished in the manner that it did. However, Ghana made it through, although less comfortably than they would have hoped.

There is a break now until Wednesday when the Semi-Finals take place and they will be as follows:

Zambia v Ghana (Estadio de Bata)

Mali v Ivory Coast (Stade d’Angondjé)

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Wednesday 01 February 2012

Group D

Botswana (1) – (2) Mali [Stade d’Angondjé]

Ghana (1) – (1) Guinea [Stade de Franceville]

Going into the last of the Group games today all four teams were still in with a chance to qualify for the Quarter-Finals. However, in the case of Botswana it would require a 9-0 victory over Mali and Ghana to beat Gambia. Now I know there have been some dramatic games, but surely this tournament won’t deliver that kind of result! Given the openness of the Group it meant that no team could afford to consider anything other than go for a win. Only Ghana knew that a win would definitely see them qualify for the knockout stages.

Guinea came into the game in Franceville with three points and knew all they could do was to go out and beat Ghana and hope that Mali were unable to defeat Botswana. Given this background, Guinea started positively against Ghana. However, on 28 minutes their dreams of progressing suffered a huge blow. Ghana had a corner which was played short to Emmanuel Agyemang Badu just outside the Guinea penalty area. He flicked the ball up with his left foot, before smashing it home with his right – one of the goals of the tournament. Guinea undeterred continued to be positive and were rewarded in time added-on at the end of the first-half. They kept possession and worked the ball from right to left. Abdoul Razzagui Camara beat his man and whipped in a ball which sailed over Kwarasey in the Ghana goal. Was it a misplaced cross or was it a shot on goal? Guinea didn’t care, they were back in the game and knew that they had 45 minutes to make their dream of qualification happen. Over in Libreville, Mali and Botswana played out a fairly even first-half which saw the teams go to the break at 0-0.

The deadlock in Libreville was quickly broken at the start of the second-half. With five minutes of the restart, Botswana were ahead. From midfield, the ball was worked wide to Moemedi, who crossed for Mogakolodi Ngele who burst through the rather static Mali defence to finish beautifully. However, Mali were back level just five minutes later. Traore twisted and turned out on the wing before whipping in a cross which was headed goal-ward. Botswana keeper Marumo could only parry and it feel to Garra Dembele who swept it in from close range. That goal meant that Mali would progress if the scores remained the same. Guinea perhaps feeling the pressure, had Mamadou Dioulde Bah sent-off with around twenty minutes to go and were now up against it as they searched for a second goal. Their fate was sealed with fifteen minutes to go, when Mali took the lead against Botswana. Seydou Keita received the ball from a throw-in and went for a one-two with Diabate on the edge of the box. The return ball was not the cleanest, but Keita did get the ball back and delivered a great finish to put Mali ahead 2-1. Guinea battled in vain, with substitutions aplenty to try and get back into the game, but it was to no avail. As the whistle blew at the two venues, Ghana and Mali celebrated as they completed the list of teams making it to the last eight. Incredibility the knockout games did not produce a single goal-less game. Would the next phase bring more cagey games?

Final Positions:

(1) Ghana: 7 pts, (2) Mali: 6 pts, (3) Guinea: 4 pts, (4) Botswana: 0 pts.

There now follows a two day break before the knockout stages takes place on Saturday and Sunday. The Quarter- Final line-up:

04/02/12       Zambia v Sudan

04/02/12       Ghana v Tunisia

05/02/12       Gabon v Mali

05/02/12       Ivory Coast v Equatorial Guinea

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Saturday 28 January 2012

Group D:

Botswana (1) – (6) Guinea

Botswana (nicknamed, Ezimbizi – The Zebras) had battled hard in their opening fixture against Ghana (nicknamed The Black Stars) before losing 1-0. Guinea (nicknamed, Syli national – National Elephants) also lost their first group game by a similar margin. To date in the tournament no side had been on the end of a heavy defeat, but that changed today. Guinea ran out 6-1 winners, a game in which the main activity took place in the opening half. Sadio Diallo opened the scoring on 15 minutes, although Botswana were back level on 23 minutes after converting a twice taken penalty. However, before the half-hour mark Guinea were back in front when Sadio Diallo restored their lead. Botswana were looking open at the back and the score was soon 3-1 when Abdoul Camara netted. Worse was to follow when Patrick Motsepe was sent-off for a very bad challenge in time added-on in the first-half. Guinea totally put the game out of reach with a fourth from Ibrahima Traoré just before the end of the first period. The second-half didn’t have quite the drama of the first forty-five, and Guinea scored two late goals through Mamadou Bah (84 minutes) and Naby Soumah (86 minutes).


Ghana (2) – Mali (0)

In contrast to the first game of the day, the significant action came in the second-half. Two excellent strikes saw Ghana virtually book their place in the knock-out phase of the competition. A beautiful curling free-kick from Asamoah Gyan gave Ghana the lead on 63 minutes and the lead was doubled on 76 minutes by André Ayew. From a lovely back-healed pass from Gyan, Ayew went right, then left to shake off two defenders before delivering a shot inside the post. A much improved performance from Ghana, but all still four sides in Group D could yet qualify.


Final Group D fixtures: Wednesday 01 February – Botswana v Mali and Ghana v Guinea

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Tuesday 24 January 2012

Group D:

Ghana (1) – (0) Botswana

Given Ghana’s 2nd place in the CAF rankings, it is no surprise they are amongst the favourites in this years tournament. In the opening game of Group D they were up against a Botswana team nineteen places below them in ranking terms and making their first appearance in an Africa Cup of Nations Finals. In the opening forty five minutes Ghana comfortably controlled proceedings, although Botswana worked hard to restrict the Ghanaian opportunities on goal. The dominance of Ghana did lead to a goal before the break, one that certainly won’t be a contender for ‘goal of the tournament’! It came on 25 minutes from a corner, which was flicked on by Asamoah Gyan, the contact seemed to confuse the Botswana defence and allowed John Mensah to bundle the ball in via his knees. In the second-half, Botswana showed more of their attacking purpose and on 66 minutes from a through ball, goal scorer Mensah was dismissed as he brought down Jerome Ramatlhakwane.  Despite Ghanaian protests, the reality was that the referee made the right decision. With a man advantage, Botswana continued to press but failed to create a real chance in the last twenty minutes. Relief then for Ghana at their win, but Botswana were by no means outclassed.


Mali (1) – (0) Guinea

In the second game of the day at Stade de Franceville, another tight encounter was expected, and so it proved to be. As with the game that proceeded it, it was settled by a single goal. In the first half Guinea certainly created the better chances, with three good efforts in the opening twenty five minutes. Soumaila Diakite made two excellent saves, the first coming in the opening minute and then again in the eighteenth minute, as he just fingered-tipped away a towering header from Ismael Bangoura. Guinea were then caught out at the back on 30 minutes. From a Mali raid down the right the ball was cut back and broke to the edge of the box. Bakaye Traore let fly and a deflection took the ball beyond the despairing dive of Naby Yattara. Guinea were almost level within minutes as Ismael Bangour broke into the Mali box but his shot was smothered by Diakite as he raced off his line. Guinea continued to dominate after the break, but couldn’t find an equaliser. Feindouno was presented with two good chances in the second half. The first was blazed wide and the second, in the closing minutes of the game was saved by Diakite, to cap off for him an outstanding display.

That game saw the end of the first round of group games and perhaps surprisingly ensured that there wasn’t a single draw in the opening eight games.

Group D resumes on Saturday 28 January, with Botswana v Guinea and Ghana v Mali.