Kick-off: Thursday January 31, 16.00 GMT
Location: Estadio 11 de Novembro, Luanda
The final of the 2010 African Cup of Nations pits defending Champions and current favourites for this year’s title alongside underdogs Ghana, who have overcome injury and inexperience to make it through to the final.
It’s been a fascinating African Cup of Nations tournament full of intrigue and shock with some big names falling by the wayside early on and the emergence of lesser nations into the competition. The appearance of Egypt, going for a record third consecutive continental title and sixth overall, is no shock, and they will be overwhelmingly tipped to claim the victory in the final. However, Ghana have shown that they should never be written off and after a difficult start to the tournament have emerged as strong contenders to end Egypt’s current dominance of Africa.
Hassan Shehata’s men have so far been the class of the competition, and whilst other big names have fallen around them, they have kept their nerve playing some fine football to reach the final. It is due reward for an excellent collective performance, and once again goes to prove what a strong side Egypt are, something they gave sporadic glimpses of in 2009. Their Confederations Cup win over Italy in South Africa gave a hint of their potential, but a failure to capitalise on their ability in key matches in World Cup qualifying cost them dear. That left many wondering which side of Egypt would turn up in Angola and whether the disappointment of their failure would inspire or overwhelm them.
With that question in mind the canny Egypt manager Hassan Shehata, who has overseen this golden period in Egyptian football despite so far not being able to convert that into a World Cup berth, decided to fine tune the team and opted to take some of the fringe squad members. Players such as Hossam Ghaly, formerly of Tottenham, were given a chance to show that they could be counted upon, whilst less experienced individuals, such as Geddo, were handed an opportunity to flourish in the spotlight. Thus far, the policy has paid off handsomely, and the mixture of old-hands installed alongside some of the lesser known Egyptian national players has proved to be a winning combination.
A 1-0 goal deficit to Nigeria was rapidly overturned in the first pool match in Group C, and straight forward wins over Mozambique and Benin confirmed their place at the top of the table. That set up a clash with Cameroon in the quarter-finals, and once again Egypt kept their cool after conceding the first goal to run out 3-1 winners. The remarkable 4-0 win over Algeria in a repeat of that fateful World Cup play-off match certainly proved cathartic for the Egyptian nation as a whole and sets them up perfectly for the final.
Whilst other sides have struggled in Angola to find their attacking groove, a lack of goals has certainly not been an issue for Egypt. The 14-goals so far are not only by far the most of any side at the 2010 African Cup of Nations, but represent a decent total in any competition of this structure. When taking into consideration the fact they have played their way past three of Africa’s five representatives at next summer’s World Cup, it is all the more remarkable.
The ability to come back from suffering the first goal in two of the pivotal matches at the tournament so far indicates that this Egyptian side have the required nerve to perform in high pressure scenarios, something that bodes well for the future, as well as this final.
Black (Young)-Stars come of age
The 2010 African Cup of Nations was supposed to be a question of looking to the future for Ghana as well. After being forced to name a squad for the tournament that was missing several first team regulars through the spine of the team, Serb coach Milovan Rajevac went for a team built around the FIFA U-20 World Cup winning squad. Ultimately seven of that successful side were called into the 23-man squad for Angola, and several have been vital in securing Ghana’s passage through to this stage.
This tournament was supposed to be a learning curve for this side, but with low initial expectations they have flourished. The usually onerous burden of the weight of carrying a nation’s hope was further eased when they crashed to a 3-1 defeat to pre-tournament favourites the Ivory Coast in the first game.
That loss prompted many to write off this young Ghana side as too young and inexperienced to cope at full senior international level, and that whilst they could blossom against their peers, asking them to match and compete with experienced internationals was clearly one step too far.
Nevertheless Ghana have fought back with three resilient performances resulting in successive 1-0 wins to initially claim second spot in Group B ahead of Burkina Faso. They put in another gritty display in the 1-0 victory against the hosts Angola in the quarter-finals, before repeating the dose against Nigeria on Thursday in the semis.
A clash of style
Whilst Egypt have been free flowing and attacking in Angola, the successive 1-0 victories goes to further highlight the fact that Ghana are rapidly becoming the first African team to be able to grind out ugly victories to further the overall progress. Too often African sides have let themselves down with tactical indiscipline, but Ghana are showing that they can adhere to a pre-agreed set of instructions and carry them out for the entire duration of the game.
This final will therefore be a fascinating clash of two different approaches with the same aim: victory. Indeed the game can be likened to the Euro 2004 final, which pitted the more flamboyant Portuguese team against the pragmatic approach of Greece. It was the Greeks that triumphed on that day, and their victory serves to show that this match will be far from one-sided.
Route to the final
28/01/10 – Nigeria (n) 1-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Semi-Final)
24/01/10 – Angola (a) 0-1 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Quarter-Final)
19/01/10 – Burkina Faso (n) 1-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group B)
15/01/10 – Ivory Coast (n) 1-3 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group B)
28/01/10 – Algeria (n) 4-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Semi Final)
25/01/10 – Cameroon (n) 3-1 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Quarter-Final)
20/01/10 – Benin (n) 2-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group C)
16/01/10 – Mozambique (n) 2-0 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group C)
12/01/10 – Nigeria (n) 3-1 (2010 African Cup of Nations, Group C)
Having been able to name a relatively settled team to reach the finals, coach Milovan Rajevac will be forced into potentially several changes to accommodate injury picked up against Nigeria. Goalkeeper Richard Kingson looked far from comfortable in goal, and could be a doubt. Furthermore experienced full-back Hans Sarpei came off in the second half to compound the earlier departure of forward Opoku Ageymang. Both have been vital in progress thus far, and it remains to be seen how fit they will be for the match against Egypt.
If either do miss the final, their replacements against Nigeria look set to start. In the case of Sarpei that will be Ibrahima Ayew, whilst for Ageymang that will be Haminu Dramane, who started the tournament in the starting XI, and may get a chance to show what he can do in the final.
In truth Egypt can consider themselves fortunate not to suffer more injuries in the semi-final to Algeria than they did. The Fennecs totally lost their heads, and a number of rash challenges only yielded what appeared to be one semi-serious problem. Emad Moateb came off after 51 minutes, and fans of Egypt will hoping that his withdrawal was no more than a precaution in a game that seemed as good as won, even from that point. If the Al-Ahly forward isn’t fit, then tournament top-scorer Geddo, who has so far been used as a high-impact player from the bench, may get a chance to further extend his tally from the start.
Players to Watch
As in the previous games, the key to Ghana’s success seems to be in resilient defending. Therefore the spine of the team through defence and midfield will be crucial, especially Isaac Vorsah and Ageymang Badu. Up front Asamoah Gyan will have to take at least one chance, if the game is to go Ghana’s way. So far the Rennes striker has been the model of striking efficiency, and he will need to be at his best to find a way through the Egyptian back-line.
The Egyptian threat has so far come from all sorts of different angles, but they will have to ensure that they don’t become their own worst enemy by lapsing into complacency after their excellent performances so far coupled with their status as favourites for this game. Essential to keeping the team in focus will be the experienced players in the team such as Wael Goma’a, Ahmed Hassan and Hosny.
There are a number of keys to the game. One is the question of whether Egypt will be able to play their fast passing game in attack on this pitch. This will be their first time in Luanda having played all their games outside the Angolan capital. The turf at the stadium is in shocking condition, and Ghana have already played two games on it, so know what to expect. Egypt will not have the luxury of acclimatisation pre-match, so will need to get to grips with the unstable and rutted surface quickly during the game.
Both sides love to push their full-backs on, and they may be left to dispute the flanks of the game, meaning that the middle of the pitch could become very congested. The side that can move the ball quickest into attacking areas, may be the one that comes out on top.
Egypt are probably the superior of the two teams technically, but may find it takes a while to find their passing range, so Ghana may take the lead. Nevertheless Egypt have shown they have the resolve and mettle to bounce back, so should confirm their record sixth title and third in a row by the end of the game.
Ghana 1-2 Egypt