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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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Black Stars book ticket to finals as the Super Eagles are brushed aside: Ghana 1-0 Nigeria African Cup of Nations Semifinals Match Report

January 28, 2010
Gyan warms up, Ghana v Nigeria, African Cup of...
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The Black Stars of Ghana slipped into the finals of the African Cup of Nations with a resolute performance against the Super Eagles of Nigeria today at the 11 de Novembro stadium.

A powerful header by Asamoah Gyan affectionately called Baby Jet in the 21 minute, was in enough to qualify the Stars.

Nigeria who were runners up in Group B, had qualified to this stage after beating Zambia in the quarterfinals on penalties. Ghana were also runners in their group, beat host nation Angola to set up a date with arch rivals Nigeria.

Apart from the inclusion of Anthony Anna for Haminu Draman, Ghana started the match with the same squad that played against Angola. Obafemi Martins also started for Nigeria rather than Yakubu Ayegbeni.

When the match began Nigeria looked the brighter of the two and looked the most likely to score. There were a few half chances that fell to Martins but the Ghana defense were able to tidy up early enough.

It was the Stars who took the lead in the 21st minute against the run of play, courtesy Gyan. He produced a fantastic header off a Kwadwo Asamoah outswinger corner kick to stun the Nigeria defense who were caught ball watching. Gyan crowed the goal with some out of the world dance celebration which can pass as the goal celebration of the tournament.

The Eagles had some great spells of dominace but failed to convert the chances that came their way. Both Martins and Odemwingie came close but shot stopper Richard Kingson who by far was my man-of-the-match dealt with their threats.

Back from the dressing room, the Nigerians continued their onslaught but lacked the cutting edge up front. The Ghana defense seem to have the answers to all the questioned asked and Kingson put in some brilliant goalkeeping displays.

Martins picked up a useful flick by Mikel Obi but Kingson jumped to save the ball. A few minutes later Martins was fed with another through ball but a joint defensive effort by Inkoomand Vorsah shielded him off.

The surprise introduction of Yakubu Ayegbeni for Odemwingie did not produce the desire magic.

The result booked Ghana a ticket to the finals their first since Senegal 1992. Surely the bookies did not see this coming.

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Ghana – Nigeria Preview: African Cup of Nations Semifinals

January 27, 2010

Obasi

Dangerman Obasi may be influential for Nigeria (Photo Credit:REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

They met at Egypt 2006, Ghana 2008 and now the stage is set again for them at Angola 2010. It’s the Black Stars of Ghana versus the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the first semifinals clash at the African Cup of Nations tomorrow. The venue is the 11 de Novembro stadium, in Luanda.

Both teams were somewhat fortunate to get into semis. Ghana resorted to rearguard action to protect a one goal lead they got in the first half of the game between Angola. Nigeria held on to a goalless draw in the match against the all encompassing Zambians to push the game into the penalty shootouts. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was the hero when scored the deciding penalty.

They have met a total of 6 times at the African Cup Nations. Nigeria has won 3 of those encounters while Ghana has won 2. None of the two has ever scored more than 2 goals in any of their previous encounters. It’s usually a 1-0, 2-1 or a 1-1 scoreline at the end of 90 minutes. I don’t expect this one to be any different.

Their encounters usually cannot be predicted by the form of the teams. It’s the better team on the pitch who will come out victors.

Ghana Team
The young Ghana side will go into this game with a lot more confidence after winning their last two games. The injury plagued squad may be boosted by the return of Rosenborg midfielder Anthony Annan who has had to watch his team progress to this stage from the bench. The team’s medical doctors have also allayed fears of Asamoah Gyan being sidelined after he limped off in the 62 minute of their last game.

Apart from the introduction of Annan we likely to see a similar squad that played against Angola. In that game Milovan Rajevic played a 4-5-1 formation with Gyan leading the attack. He may use a similar system or will resort to the 4-4-2 formation which he played against Burkina Faso.

Their danger-man is Kwadwo Asamoah who has been influential in Milo’s game plan so far. He’s a strong midfielder who is able to hold the ball feed the attack with some useful balls. Although not yet on the scoring sheet, he has tried a couple of long range shots which have caused worries for goalkeepers. We’ve seen him score from distance during the qualifiers and Nigeria mus keep on an eye on the lad.

Black Stars

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

Nigeria Team
Nigeria has bounced back to winning ways after they were smashed 3-1 by defending champions Egypt in the opening match. They beat Gabon 1-0 and toppled the Mambas of Mozambique by 3-0. They however needed the lottries to beat the Zambians in their last game. Irrespective of their winning ways, they’re still unconvincing and considering the big names they have in their squad, a lot more expected of them.

Obafemi Martins saw some extra time football action in the last match against Zambia. I’m sure Shaibu Amodu will like to start him rather than the less impressive Ayegbeni Yakubu. Central defender Apam is suspended for this match after receiving a red card in the last match. He was a replacement for skipper Yobo and his suspension is likely to worry the Eagles.

The danger men for Nigeria are Obasi and Odemwingie. If they should see enough of the ball they can be deadly. They have the pace that can cause trouble for the inexperience Ghana defense. Odemwingie has already found the back of the net twice and would want to eye the not out of reach top goalscorer award.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria (Photo Credit:REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Predictions
It’s the young Black Stars against the experience Super Eagles. The Eagles are slight favorites but it’s difficult to predict when these two meet.

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African Cup of Nations heading for a photo finish – Semifinal preview

January 26, 2010

60 goals have been scored so far in the ongoing African Cup of Nations in Angola. Although it doesn’t look like the 99 goals scored in the last edition will be overtaken, it has been a fantastic competition so far. The story is far from over.

Two bitter rivalry dates
The Super Eagles of Nigeria and defending champions Egypt yesterday qualified for the semifinals of competition after beating Zambia and Cameroon respectively. They join Ghana and Algeria who secured their spots after wins over host nation Angola and Ivory Coast in that order.

The semifinals will serve soccer fans with two of the hottest football rivalries on the continent. Nigeria will clash with Ghana in an all West African affair and Egypt will lock horns with Algeria in an all North African affair.

Ghana vs Nigeria Preview
The game between Nigeria and Ghana will the first match of the day. Two time champions Nigeria, have a score to settle with Ghana, who have won the trophy on four occasions.

Games between the two have had no particular pattern and it could well be anybody’s game irrespective of their recent forms. However history favors the Stars who have won 18 times compared to Eagle’s 11 out 46 competitive matches between them.

In the last edition of the competition held in Ghana, a 10-man Blacks Stars dumped the Super Eagles in the quarterfinals by 2-1. Ayegbeni Yakubu gave the Nigerians a lead from the spot kick. Micheal Essien headed a Quincy cross in and off the post to level the scores just before half time. A late goal by Junior Agogo shattered a semifinal dream of the Eagles and handed the ticket to the Stars.

Is it revenge time for Nigeria? I’m not sure. However they face a new Ghana side who despite the odds have gotten this far. This time around they do not have the luxury of the services of Michael Essien, Junior Agogo and Sulley Muntari who made a difference in that game. Nigeria do have some very big names on the pitch but were unconvincing in the game against Zambia. In the case of Ghana, they still have a team which is just beginning to find it rhythm.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria (Photo Credit:REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt vs Algeria Preview
This will be the second match of the day and promises even more fireworks. Head-to-head statistics favor the Algerians. They have won 8 games while Egyptians have won 5 out 22 matches played between them.

The Pharaohs will be understandably very bitter when Algeria booked a spot at South Africa 2010 World Cup. The tale started when Egypt forced a playoff after beating Algeria by 2-0 goals to draw the teams level at the top of the table in their last group match. New Hull City striker Amr Zaki who is not part of the team this time got Egypt off to a dream start when he scored in the second minute. A dramatic yet sensational late goal by Moteab secured a playoff to the relief of the Egyptians.

Egypt however failed to qualified as they lost narrowly to Algeria in the playoff at Khartoum, Sudan. It was a stunning first-half strike which came of the boot of defender Antar Yahya in the first half that made difference.

Is it revenge time for Egypt? Well, we would have to wait to see who gets to play in the finals. What we know is that, Egypt has a 100% record in the tournament and they set to retain the title they won in Ghana two years ago. We have also seen the Algerian team improve after their 3-0 humiliating defeat to Malawi in the first game. They bundled out pre-tournament favorites, Ivory Coast in spectacular fashion.

Algeria

The Desert Foxes of Algeria (Photo Credit:AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

More to follow (Watch out for the match previews)

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Super Eagles fortunate to beat Zambia: Nigeria 5-4 Zambia(pen) African Cup of Nations Quarterfinals

January 25, 2010

Obasi

Nigeria slips in semis (Photo Credit:REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Super Eagles of Nigeria have qualified for the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations after beating Zambia on penalties.

It was a balance first 45 minutes and the ball travels from end to end. Towards the end of the half, the Zambians looked the more threatening and the likely to score. They however failed to find the back of the net.

Back from recess, the Chipolopolos took the game to the Nigerians. They were fast in attack and created a lot of brilliant chances but Nigeria shot stopper Vincent Enyeama was up to the task.

At the end of 90 minutes, it was deadlock and the game traveled into extra time, much to the relief of the Super Eagle who were under intense pressure. In the 107th minute, central defender Apam received a red card after being booked for the second time in the game. Down to 10 men, the Eagles did just enough to push the game into the penalty shoot out.

A nervous looking Thomas Nyirenda missed Zambia’s 4th penalty to hand the advantage to the Eagles who won 5-4.

Their qualifications sets a up a West African rivalry date with Ghana in the semifinals. Ghana beat Nigeria in the last edition of the African Cup of Nations and this may well be revenge time for the Eagles.

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‘Young’ Stars shoot the Black Antelopes – Ghana 1-0 Angola African Cup of Nations Quarterfinals

January 24, 2010
LUANDA, ANGOLA  - JANUARY 19:  Paul Koulibaly ...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The Black Stars of Ghana today beat host nation Angola by a lone goal to advance to the semifinal stage of the African Cup of Nations. As expected, it was an intense match with a lot at stake for both sides.

It was an entertaining first half, and in the first 10 minutes of the game, both team tried seize possession. The Stars created a few brilliant chances upfront after that. It was one of those chances that French based striker Asamoah Gyan capitalized to score Ghana’s only goal. Kwadwo Asamoah created the goal when he played a beautiful through-ball all the way from the center circle to find his teammate, Gyan. Gyan’s first time control was solid and his place ball finish was even superb.

The Stars fell back for most of the rest of the half. The Angolans came close a number of times but blew away the chances. Mancho was the worst culprit.

The second half started on a queit note with the pace of the game dropping significantly. The Angolans stepped up the game as it progressed and put the Ghanaians on the back foot most of the time. The Stars defense was resolute and dealt with the danger.

The Stars came close in the 63rd minute when a ball that dropped behind the Angolan defense found Dramani. His shot at goal however was no more than a routine for shot stopper Carlos.

In the 72nd minute, substitute Job put in a quality ball into the box. It found Manucho whose free header went just wide. Ghana had another rare attacking moment after 78 minutes. Kwadwo Asamoah’s sot from 27m forced a brilliant save from Carlos.

The result slips the Black Stars into the semifinals of the competition. They play the winner of the Nigeria-Zambia game.

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Angola – Ghana Preview: Quarterfinals African Cup of Nations

January 23, 2010

Manucho

Angola's Manucho can be instrumental (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The African Cup of Nations enters the quarterfinal stage tomorrow. Host nation Angola and host of the last edition(CAN2008) Ghana will lock horns in the first match of the day. Angola qualified as winner of Group A with 5 points from 3 games. Their counterparts, Ghana qualified as runners of Group B. They secured 3 points from 2 games.

The two met in an international friendly in preparation for the African Cup of Nations on 18th November last year. The match ended in a goalless draw. In the second half of that game, the Palancras Negras piled pressure on the Stars but they managed an escape, thanks to young goalkeeper Daniel Agyei.

Angola
Angola will go into this game as slight favorites considering their home advantage. Trust the supporters to turn out in their numbers to make sure their team reaches the semifinals for the first time in the history of the competition. Coach Manuel Jose is likely to bring a squad similar to the one we saw against Algeria. Their top goal scorer so far Flavio, who was out with a hamstring in that game is likely to make a return. This will be good news for the team considering how they played without him in Algeria’s match.

The danger-men for Angola are wingers Gilberto and Mabina. They have pace and constantly supply deadly crosses into the area of the opposition. Watch out for Manucho who will be out harassing the defenders and acting as a distraction for Flavio and Djalma.

Angola v Malawi

Angola defender Zuela (Photo credit: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)


Ghana
The Stars will draw inspiration from their last game against Burkina Faso where they won by a lone goal, courtesy Andre Ayew. Despite the win, the Stars are likely to struggle without their talismans, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Stephen Appiah and John Mensah. The injury-plagued squad however has good news in camp ahead of this game. Midfielder Anthony Annan and striker Asamoah Gyan have been declared fit to play and they could be influential for the ‘young’ Stars.

The Ghana midfield is yet to gel. Man-of-the-match Andre Ayew can do well if he stays on the left flank. The introduction of Dramani in the last match did not work the expected magic. There’s also the threat of Ghana’s latest midfield prodigy, Kwadwo Asamoah. He seems to be the set piece specialist in the team. He is a fine midfielder by every standard, however in this competition, he is yet to convince me that he can distribute the ball as well asEssien does.

Black Stars

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


Reactions so far

“We are ready for any team at the quarter-final. Anything can happen.”
“We can reach the semi-final, but we can also be knocked out or we can even go all the way and win the title.” – Angola coach Manuel Jose

“We played them before in a friendly and know much about them,”
“It will definitely be difficult.
“When we played against them in that game, it was the same atmosphere.
“It had no effect on our play and so will it be this time.
“In football, supporters don’t count. It is the pitch that determines the winner.” – Ghana midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah

“We played them in a friendly two months ago, so we know them well.” – Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac

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