Ghana confronts ‘Nations Cup Semi-Final Hoodoo’

By Sammy Bartels
Ghana’s presence in the semi -finals of AFCON 2015 is the 5th Straight appearance by the Black Stars in the last four of the competition. But can the National team to make that consistency count this time? 

It is an impressive record matched only by Nigeria’s similar run between 2000 and 2010. But worryingly it is also an all too familiar reminder of Ghana’s near misses in this competition that has further stretched the Black Stars AFCON trophy drought into a 33rd year.

Out of the four previous semis, the Black Stars managed only one progression to the final, and that was at Angola 2010. That particular semi final in 2010, a victory over Nigeria by a lone goal, is also the only one of the four when Ghana was the clear underdog.

In the 2008, 2012 and 2014 semi -final matches Ghana was considered favourite to reach the Afcon final and yet each of these ended in tears. So what caused the Black Stars collapse in these games?

What lessons can be learnt? and what must the Ghana team do to avert a recurrence? ‘DREAM FINAL’ The first symptom of Ghana’s recent semi final crashes has been the regular prospect of facing a major rival in a ‘dream final’. But in looking beyond the semi final games Ghana has often slipped in the seemingly smaller tasks.

In 2012, the talk in Equatorial Guinea-Gabon was of a dream final between the two best teams on the African continent- Cote D’ivoire and Ghana. It was quite simple; Cote D’Ivoire to beat Mali and Ghana to beat Zambia and then the final everyone wanted to see. Easy Peesy!

The elephants had the Star names and the talismanic Didier Drogba leading their charge to reach the final. For Ghana, Afcon 2012 was the first major tournament since the heroics of World Cup 2010 when the team reached the Quarterfinals.

Zambia, Ghana’s opponents weren’t expected to cause many problems for Africa’s most successful team at the World Cup. The dream final never materialized as the ‘Chipolopolo’ eliminated Ghana and then sensationally beat the Elephants to win the trophy.

Tournaments are won one match at a time and it is never advisable to look at the mouthwatering prospects when there are more immediate battles to fight. Yet again there is talk of Ghana-Cote D’Ivoire but the Black Stars will do well to forget about the match touted final against Yaya Toure and Co, for at least one day until the final ticket is secure.

Every team that reaches the last four is motivated and good enough to make the finals and is therefore dangerous. In the case of a host nation the stakes get even more raised.

Hence the Black Stars can never presume themselves firm favourites against hosts Equatorial Guinea even if the records say so. Before Ghana faced Burkina Faso in the last four of the 2013 Afcon in South Africa, the Stallions had never tasted victory against their neighours in previous Afcon tournaments.

In two previous meetings in 2002 and 2010 the Black Stars had won both matches 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. Therefore on paper and based on history and pedigree Burkina Faso were expected to bite the dust and make way for a Ghana –Nigeria final. Similar to 2013, Ghana crushed out painfully this time after penalty shoot outs.

The underdogs progressed. Pedigree counts for nothing if a team cannot close the deal against supposed weaker opposition. Ghana cannot afford to be complacent against Equatorial Guinea.

Avram Grant’s task is to drill his men to show enough character against an expected hostile home support in Bata and perhaps some dodgy officiating as well if what happened to Tunisia and Gabon is anything to go by.

While, a team must be good enough to win matches, sometimes you need a bit of luck to get results. Injuries and a bad day are always a possibility in football. In 2008 Ghana faced Cameroon in the semifinal of the Afcon on home soil hotly tipped to progress and meet Egypt in a final that pits the two all-time record winners against each other.

Ghana’s opponents Cameroon needed extra time to edge Tunisia at the quarterfinal stage. The Black Stars lined up without the dependable John Mensah who was missing the game as a result of a rsending off in the Quarter final clash with Nigeria. Then just before kickoff Laryea Kingston pulled out with a suspected hamstring and was replaced by the inexperienced 18 year-old Andre Ayew.

Luck eluded Ghana again when they failed to take the numerous chances they created. N’kong scored for the indomitable Lions and 40,000 Ghanaian hearts were broken in Accra!

In the 2012 semi-final against Zambia Ghana could have sealed a place in the final if Asamoah Gyan had converted a first half penalty. Gyan’s kick was saved by the impressive Kennedy Mweeney before Emmanuel Mayuka came off the bench to score 12 minutes from time as Zambia shocked Ghana to earn a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

“Football, Bloody Hell”
Alex Ferguson In 2015, the Ghana team has shown immense mental strength in recovering from an opening group stage loss to reach this far. Ghanaians will be hoping enough lessons have been leant from their previous mistakes to save them from another semi-final heartache.

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