The 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations has thrown up some very interesting results. How ironic that there was little to separate all sixteen sides after two rounds of matches.
A lot has happened since then though as hosts Equatorial Guinea edged out Gabon in a nail biting final group fixture at the Estadio de Bata on Sunday.
The celebration that followed their victory against their neighbours depicted the passion with which the locals follow the fortunes of their national side never mind the investments they made to court players with little or no ties to the oil rich nation to play for them.
Five points from a possible nine and a second place position behind Congo-Brazzaville is surely good enough.
There is a huge chance of going one further step than they did when they co-hosted the tournament three years ago. In Tunisia, Congo DR, Zambia and Cape Verde, they would surely be fancying their chances if they should come up against any of these four sides. It remains to be seen how Group B would pan out after Monday’s action.
It’s tight in here as well.
For a lot of Ghanaians following the CAN the focus would clearly be on the Black Stars and their level of progress. After that painful loss to Senegal, it had to take an extra special strike by skipper Yaw Asamoah Gyan to see the side through.
Question marks have been raised about the quality of the side minus their lead striker as was clearly evident against the Terranga Lions. The worry takes a different dimension should Gyan have a bad day at the office. Can the others step up? David Accam and Andre Ayew at the presser before the Algeria game and after the game respectively did talk about the other squad members taking responsibility as Gyan was not going to be around forever. Great comments by the two lads but it was hard to see that in the two games played so far. Opportunities do not come every day and players need to take them when they come. I readily recall that of John Boye in 2012 when Isaac Vorsah was not available for selection due to suspension in the opening game against Botswana. The rest they say is history as his performances made sure that Vorsah was consigned to the bench. Daniel Amartey has also come in from nowhere to break into the team and with his stock rising after winning two fair play awards, Boye, who was first choice, may have to wait for his chance.
Jordan Ayew, Mahatma Otoo, Kwesi Appiah and David Accam would have to stand up and be counted and take their chance when the opportunity presents itself against the South Africans on Tuesday and in the near future.
It was interesting listening to South African Minister of Sports and Recreation Fikile Mbablula at the Team Presser at the Hotel Mongomo on Sunday. For him and the South African nation at large, their exploits in the qualifiers alone would pass for enough and that they had not set themselves the unrealistic target of coming to the tournament to win it. That a win or progression in the tournament was only going to be a bonus. Realism you would say. South Africa has struggled to reach the heights of 96 when she won the competition and were losing finalists in 1998 to the Egyptians.
Two successive qualifications to the FIFA World Cup in France and Japan/South Korea respectively further improved their stock. Whatever hit them after that is difficult to comprehend but it was clearly a case of a golden generation of players passing their prime and the new players coming through the system not having the quality of the Khumalos, Moshoeus,Toveys, Radebes, Bartletts and co.
Enter Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba and his charisma seem to have given the side a new lease of life. A brilliant qualifying phase may have raised expectations back home another notch but even he would be the first to admit that his side is not the finished article yet. Inexperience cost them in the first two games Algeria and Senegal, games they could have easily won. They would have surely learnt their lessons but has it come a little too late for them as they come up against a Ghanaian side buoyed by their last minute winner against the Dessert Warriors?
Midfielder Bongani Zungu, a relatively new comer in the Bafana Bafana side told me he believes the side has the quality to cause an upset against Ghana. It is possible. Football is a funny sport and a lot more stranger things have happened in the past. They surely do have the talent to cause an upset.
With all four sides still in with a decent chance of qualifying for the quarter finals, we are in for two spectacular games on Tuesday. The South Africans need to beat Ghana and hope that Senegal edge out Algeria. A win for Ghana would automatically guarantee her qualification. The caveat though would have to do with who ends up topping the group and playing in the familiar territory of the Estadio Obiang Mbasogo. All four teams would love that. Won’t they?
From what I have seen of their training sessions in the last twenty four hours, both teams are not likely to make any drastic changes to their sides. South African skipper Dean Furman should be available for selection on Tuesday as his injury which saw him sit out for a greater period of their training on Sunday isn’t deemed serious enough to rule him out. How the defence of Afful, the outstanding centre halves of Jonathan Mensah and Daniel Amartey together with Baba Rahman would deal with the trident of Oupa Manyisa, Tokelo Rantie and speedstar Thuso Phala remains to be seen.
For the South Africans though, their biggest challenge would surely have to do with the presence of skipper Asamoah Gyan. If they can keep tabs on him, they would fancy their chances as the supplies from Atsu and Ayew on the wings and Badu,Jordan, Acquah/Wakaso have not been telling enough. It’s game on. Who goes through?