Before Ghana have even kicked a ball they’ve reached a pivotal game in their hunt for ANC (African Nation’s Cup) glory.
The Black Stars head into tomorrow’s crucial match against Ivory Coast with everything at stake. A win cements Ghana’s qualification. A draw places the entire group on a knife edge. A loss leaves the Black Stars relying on victory against Burkina Faso to make the quarter-finals.
With so much in the balance, Ivory Coast is the hardly the ‘walk in the park’ opposition you would like. Nicknamed ‘The Elephants’, the Ivory Coast are a technically gifted side, blessed with a host of footballing superstars. The Elephants however, resemble England in orange, always falling short despite an array of talent. Having only achieved one ANC title (in 1992), Ivory Coast Head Coach Vahid Halilhodži? promised to instil a winning mentality. He seems to have failed despite their pre-tournament ‘favourites’ tag.
FALLING FLAT: Drogba and team will need to improve against Ghana to avoid falling out of the ANC at the first hurdle.
Ivory Coast drew their opening game 0-0, in a poor showing against Burkina Faso. The Ivoirians looked disorganised, physically drained and mentally fatigued. This will be music to Ghanaian ears as a Black Stars victory would all but condemn the Elephant’s to a premature flight home – despatching of a major rival in the process and inching their fingers closer to the trophy.
It isn’t all smiles however and Ghana Coach Milovan Rajevec will have concerns going into Friday’s game. First team players Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari and John Paintsil are all absent from the tournament, leaving Rajevec relying on ambitious youngsters to take their place.
ALL FOR ONE: Head Coach Milovan Rajevec will be hoping Ghana play as a team to break down the Ivory Coast side of individuals.
These youthful novices will need an experienced team spine to support them and keep them in-check. However, if the Black Stars excel in one department, it is their infallible work-rate and tremendous team spirit.
The Ghana defence, lead by the experienced Eric Addo, will need to demonstrate this team spirit in order to suppress the ferocious Ivorian attack. Didier Drogba and co will look to pick holes in a back line that could include the inexperienced duo of Lee Addy and Harrison Afful.
Up front Rajevec will have to decide whether to gamble on playing wonderkid Dominic Adiyiah. Adiyiah, the Under 20’s World Cup golden boot winner, will be keen to prove his worth to the first team by ripping Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue’s back four to shreds. Asamoah Gyan and Matthew Amoah performed well together in qualifying though and will be confident of retaining their spots.
The deciding battle will be the war of the midfields. Superstar Michael Essien has escaped the frozen Fort Knox of Britain, but is still recovering from a hamstring injury. In such a crucial game, he is likely to feature in some capacity though. Anthony Annan has been ruled out giving fresh faced Emmanuel Badu a chance to fill his boots. The pace and countering attacking threat of Ghana will look to get the better of a lacklustre Elephants midfield, bombing forward in the hope of notching up goals.
PICK ME BOSS!: Places are up for grabs against the Ivory Coast with several players hoping to impress foreign scouts.
This match-up should prove an early tournament highlight and a test for the Black Stars title credentials. Rajevec said recently: “We’ll give our best on Friday and try to win. We want to win this competition, but this first game is going to be interesting; pitting our young team against one of the best sides in Africa”
I believe that Ghana will bang at the Ivorian door and snatch a few goals. At the other end, a shaky defence will let concede but Addo will prove his leadership material by preventing a youthful side crumbling under the pressure.
Prediction – Ivory Coast 1-2 Ghana (Drogba – Gyan, Adiyiah)