Two of the continent’s historic superpowers will face each other in the African Cup of Nations final today at 2pm ET on beIN SPORTS.
They happen to be neighbors and fierce rivals as well. Ghana and Ivory Coast have each put their respective homelands through so much heartache and are always heavily criticized by their fans. But the victor of the match will begin a new chapter in their nation’s sporting history while the loser will suffer immensely.
Ghanaian fans normally have high expectations but none, including myself, considered them to be title contenders for the tournament. After the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari retiring from duty for the national team and manager Kwesi Appiah being fired, it was obviously time for a change. In came former Chelsea manager Avram Grant to lead the team and he tried to change the philosophy of how the Black Stars have always played. Even though the nation’s biggest weakness is developing solid center-backs, Grant wanted to play a 3-5-2 and when Ghana lost 2-1 to Senegal, it was apparent that the strategy wouldn’t work with his current crop of players. Since then, the four-time winners of AFCON have played in a 4-2-3-1 in which the second striker plays in the hole and it has added a sense of fluidity, while maintaining tactical discipline. Versatile attacker Andre Ayew, son of Ghanaian soccer icon Abedi Pele, has been the nation’s best player since last year and the 24-year-old continues to improve. In AFCON, Ayew is Ghana’s leading scorer with three goals, while also adding two assists. No player in the tournament has been a part of more goals than the Marseille player. He’s become the heart of the team while captain Asamoah Gyan remains the soul. The Black Stars haven’t won the tournament since Andre’s father played for them in 1982 and he understands how much a win would mean to his nation.
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“Both teams have a chance of winning the match, so it will be very important for us to rest and recuperate before the game. We have a day less than Cote d’Ivoire and would have preferred to have more time to prepare, but a final is a final and we will be ready. We will do everything in our power to bring the trophy. There is no word to describe how much we want to win the trophy. People are questioning whether we are ready to lift the trophy again after so many years, but if we were not ready, we would not have beaten Equatorial Guinea in the semi-finals. We are ready,” said Ayew to Fifa.com.
The Elephants on the other hand, haven’t struggled at all in the tournament and are led by the reigning four-time African Player of the Year in Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. The captain of Ivory Coast normally plays further up the pitch for the defending Premier League champions, but for his nation he plays more as a defensive midfielder, like how he did at Barcelona. In the group stages, new club teammate Wilfried Bony couldn’t get on target but in the knockout round, he’s scored two goals and is finally finding form in Equatorial Guinea. The former Arsenal flop turned Roma star Gervinho has added so much pace and quality, while adding two goals along with attacking midfielder Max Gradel.
In the 1992 AFCON they beat Ghana in a penalty shootout for the title, and this time around they most certainly have the more talented team, but that doesn’t guarantee victory. Ghana and Ivory Coast have both been heralded with producing ‘golden generations’ within the last decade since they both made the World Cup for the first time in 2006. It’s now three successive appearances on the biggest stage of all, which is where the hype stems from surrounding both nations. Now 31, Toure knows this opportunity may be the last for him to lead his country to glory and he’s relishing the chance to write himself and his team into folklore.
“Ivory Coast has always had good players but we didn’t do it. For years now we’ve been chasing this trophy, the Africa Cup of Nations, but we’ve not got it. This year is going to be the time again to do it. I hope at long last with my national team we can do it. Since I’ve been young, I’ve always dreamed of lifting lots of trophies and now I’m very happy with all I’ve done in my career. But I think this Africa Cup of Nations has always been my target as an African and for African football it’s very, very important for your country as well,” said Toure.
On Thursday, Ghana bought 80 megawatts from Ivory Coast because they’ve been suffering from blackouts in the nation and they wanted their fans to view their semi-final against Equatorial Guinea. The neighbors won’t be so friendly now that they’re facing each other for the trophy. The Elephants have their full roster ready to go but the Black Stars have issues with Asamoah Gyan. Before the tournament, the nation’s all-time leading scorer was suffering from a small case of malaria but now he has a hip injury, which he suffered in the quarter-final against Guinea. At such a pivotal time one can expect Ghana to take the risk, but overall Ivory Coast may have too much class for in a fiercely competitive final.
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