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Ghana – Egypt Preview: African Cup of Nations Finals

January 31, 2010

The curtains will come down tomorrow at the African Cup of Nations in Angola bringing the 27th edition of the competition to a close. Before that however, soccer fans across the continent, will watch the Black Stars of Ghana take on the Pharaohs of Egypt in the final match, to decide the winner. This match can be dubbed the ‘Best of the Best’-Best of the West versus Best of the North.

Stakes
Obviously the stakes are high for any final match. For both teams however, there is a lot more to play for in this match. Ghana have not won the trophy in 28 years and the last time they were in the finals was 18 years ago in Senegal. In the case of Egypt the stakes are even higher. Winning the trophy will somewhat compensate for their inability to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. They also have the chance to make it an unprecedented treble of African Cup of Nations trophies having won the previous two in Egypt and Ghana.

Buildup
Ghana
It hasn’t been an easy road to the finals for the Stars, but their resort to a defense oriented tactical system has paid off so far. Being one of the first teams to have booked their qualification to the tournament in Angola, they were tipped as one of the favorites. However with only a couple of weeks to the start of the competition, their injury toll had risen significantly. Five key players could not make the squad due to injuries. Coach Milo had to fall on 8 members of the Under 20 team, the Black Satellites which won gold at the Youth World Cup late last year.

In their opening match against neighbors, Ivory Coast, they were thrashed 3-1 and it looked like their campaign was over. Despite the odds, they bounced back in their next match, beating Gabon 1-0 to sneak into the quarterfinals. Their next game against Angola was a real test for the Stars. They managed a 1-0 scoreline despite the host nations home advantage. That result set up a semifinal date with their arch rivals Nigeria. An Asamoah Gyan’s header in the first half of the game against Nigeria was sufficient to play in the finals.

Egypt
Egypt had their own worries before the tournament.Coach Shehata had to dropped Mohamed Aboutrika and striker Amr Zaki due to injuries. They were also coming into this tournament with their World Cup playoff loss to rivals Algeria still hanging on their head.

Right from the very first match against Nigeria who they beat 3-0, they made clear their intentions of defending the title the won in Ghana. They went on to clock easy victories against Gabon and Mozambique. Their fine form continued as they bundled out title hopefuls, Cameroon in the quarterfinals. They got their revenge in the semifinals against Algeria when they recorded an emphatic 4-0 victory.

Egypt

The Pharaohs of Egypt (Photo Credit: AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI)


Head-to-Head
The two teams have met only twice in the history of the tournament. In 1970 their first match in 1970 ended in a 1-1 draw. They met again in Senegal 1992 and the Stars were victorious, beating the Pharaohs by a lone goal.

When you take a look at all competitive games, the statics tilts in the favor Egypt. Out of 16 matches played, they have won 7 and Ghana has won 4. While the Egyptians have scored 23 goals in total, the Ghanaians can take credit for 15 goals.

Ghana Team
The spell of injuries just wont stop when it come to Ghana in this tournament. Stand-in captain Richard Kingson who was voted man-of-the-match in the game against Nigeria is still battling a groin injury. Central defender Eric Addo was also struck by malaria after the first match and has not seen any action since. Agyeman Opoku and Hans Sarpei who have been key to Milo’s tactics are also doubts for this match.

The Stars still have young midfield prodigy Kwadwo Asamoah. In form Asamoah Gyan who has 3 goals to his credit in the tournament will be upfront to lead the Stars attack. It’s predictable that Coach Milo will stick to his cautious 4-5-1 formation. We might see a similar squad that played against Nigeria. In defense, Ibrahim Ayew may replace Sarpei if he is not match fit. In midfield, Draman might be seen on the right for the doubtful Opoku Agyeman while Andre Ayew will travel the left flank.

Black Stars

Black Stars in one of their training sessions(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Egypt Team
Egypt will worry about key players Wael Gomaa and Emad Moteab who are major doubts for the game. The Pharaohs however have depth and the players on the bench are more than capable. We have seen midfielder Gedo come on as a substitute to score goals.

The Egyptian team is solid in all departments of the game. Their talisman and captain Ahmed Hassan is their mostly dangerous player. He works hard in midfield and has shown time and time again that he score from range. Striker Zidan can unlock the Ghana defense if given an inch of space. They also have one of the safest pairs of hands in the goal post. Essam El Hadari has conceded only two goal in 5 matches.

Prediction
I’m not sure we are going to see a lot of goals in this game. The Egyptians are favorites but the Ghanaians keep improving after every game. Who will win when a team which is not scared to attack face a team which is not scared to defend? I thread cautiously!

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