Ivory Coast v Ghana, African Cup of Nations, January 15, 2010
In a competition which has thrown the form book out the window, there is a more than real chance that the pre-tournament favourites, the Ivory Coast, could being packing their bags and heading home early doors. (Ivory Coast are 10/11 to win the group, Ghana are 6/5.)
The Elephants disappointed in their opening match against Burkina Faso, forced to settle for a goalless draw (10/1) despite dominating the possession. The Ivorians, and striker Bakari Kone in particular, missed several glorious opportunities to open their account in Angola, and the pressure is now on Vahid Halilhodzic’s side to make no mistakes against one of the continent’s leading sides, Ghana.
Making the match against Ghana all the more daunting is the location of the fixture. Playing in Cabinda, the scene of the horrific machine-gun attack on the Togo national team, both sides would be excused for having security fears lodged at the back of their minds. And such security fears cold definitely knock both sides’ focus off the match in hand, particularly having regard to Didier Drogba’s post match comments earlier in the week when the Chelsea striker admitted “After what happened a few days ago, it was difficult to concentrate [against Burkina Faso].”
Arguably the biggest test for the Ivorians now is to prove that their collective unit is more effective than the squad’s individual parts.
Blessed with one of the most talented squads on paper with the likes of Drogba, Kalou, Gervinho, Eboue and the Toure brothers on their books, the Ivory Coast should not only be one of the strongest nations in Africa, but also world football. (Ivory Coast are 9/4 to score in both halves.) Yet, so far the Ivorians have yet to truly sparkle when the spotlight is shone on them, instead they have wilted under the weight of their bloated reputation.
Tactically, the Elephants will be looking to have Drodga play in a far more central role than he occupied in match one, with Gervinho required to step up his performance if selected as the second striker. Similarly, the Ivorians need to improve the quality of their final ball, with full-backs Eboue and Boka required to improve their delivery from the wide areas in the final third. Finally, it is also imperative that the Elephants find the mental strength to persist with a high tempo game even if an early goal doesn’t materialise against the Black Stars. (Ivory Coast are 11/2 to win both halves.)
While the Ivorians will be busy looking to right their wrongs from their opening match, Ghana have been forced to wait patiently for their first game in Angola in the wake of the Togo attack.
It’s an exciting time to be a Black Stars fan. After excelling at their first ever World Cup in 2006, reaching the last 16, Ghana have shown themselves to be a nation building for the future in recent years having seen their hugely talented Under-20 side win the 2009 FIFA World Youth Championships with a victory against Brazil in the final.
Tapping into their youthful resources, coach Milovan Rajevac has rewarded six of the U20 squad with senior level calls up for Angola, and arguably the brightest of the teenagers is striker Dominic Adiyiah. The 20-year-old forward scored eight goals at the U20 World Cup to win the Golden Boot, and was swiftly snapped by Italian powerhouse AC Milan. (Ghana are 5/1 to score in both halves.)
Adiyiah wasn’t the only teenager though to grab the headlines in 2009. Midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was picked up by Sampdoria after a series of powerful showings in Egypt at the U20 World Cup, while Marseille’s Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew showed that he has one of the sweetest left pegs of football’s next generation.
Ghana have had several selection headaches though ahead of the ACN. Sulley Muntari, Stephen Appiah, John Mensah John Paintsil and Laryea Kingston are all absent with injury, while doubts remain over the fitness of talisman Michael Essien, who is only just making his return from a hamstring problem. That could sees a lot of responsibility fall on the shoulders of Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan, with the forward having netted eight times in the first half of the Ligue 1 season.
While Ghana can qualify with a win, a defeat would not automatically put the Elephants out of contention for a quarterfinal berth. But Halilhodzic’s team would have to wait until the last group game between Burkina Faso and Ghana to discover its fate.
101predicts: Ivory Coast 3 – Ghana 2 (35/1)
Full match odds here.