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Crucial Encounter in ‘Elephants’ Bid For Quarter-Final Berth

If the Ivory Coast’s tournament so far could be summed up in one word, it would be wasteful. After failing to convert numerous goal scoring opportunities against Burkina Faso, Vahid Halilhodži?’s side go into their encounter with Ghana knowing defeat could result in the unthinkable; a group exit.

And the ‘Black Stars’ are hardly the side you would be keen to play with pressure on you for a victory. A ruthless team with brutal athleticism, compounded with skill in abundance, Ghana have lifted the African Cup of Nations four times – in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982. However, these past glories are now only fading memories, something which Michael Essien and his side are looking to put right, starting with victory against the ‘Elephants’.

Didier Drogba will be looking to catapult his side into the quarter-finals
Didier Drogba will be looking to catapult his side into the quarter-finals

In contrast, despite their disappointing opening draw with Burkina Faso, the Ivoirians’ enter the game knowing that a victory will see them through to the quarter-finals. And if Ghana show any signs of the shakiness that almost saw them fall at the first hurdle in the qualifying stages, the Ivory Coast will punish them. Milovan Rajevic’s side comprises of predominantly younger players, most of whom are from their successful U-20 squad. This exuberant youth, together with the drive and experience of players such as Michael Essien and Matthew Amoah, forms a tough unit which could possibly end the hopes of the pre-tournament favourites.

Perhaps the area that the Ivory Coast will look to exploit the most will be Ghana’s vastly inexperienced defence. Youngsters such as Harrison Afful and Lee Addy form part of their back line, and with the skill of stars such as Kone and Gervinho hugging the touchline, they could be in for a busy night.

Coach Vahid Halilhodzic will be keen for his side to get off to an early start
Coach Vahid Halilhodzic will be keen for his side to get off to an early start

With no defensive worries, it seems likely that Halilhodži? will stick with the same back four that comfortably nullified any Burkinabe attack on Monday, although changes will almost certainly be made to the rest of the starting XI. Didier Drogba is expected to keep his place, although his partner up front could be any one from four: Kalou, Kone, Gervinho, or Dindane. Whilst the Bosnian maestro has the luxury of a selection headache, Rajevic has quite the opposite. Injuries have taken their toll on Stephen Appiah, John Mensah and Laryea Kingston – all influential players – whilst Chelsea’s Michael Essien is rated at 60/40 following a recent hamstring injury.

Ghana's Michael Essien is rated as 'doubtful' for the encounter
Ghana’s Michael Essien is rated as ‘doubtful’ for the encounter

However, the Serbian isn’t fazed by the daunting task facing them. He told, ‘We want to win this competition, but this first game is going to be interesting pitting our very young team against one of the best and most experienced sides in Africa.’

On paper, the Ivory Coast should have enough to overcome an injury-ravaged Ghanaian side. But the same was said before the Burkina Faso encounter, and we all know what happened there…

Prediction: Ivory Coast 2-1 Ghana

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