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Published On: Sat, Feb 7th, 2015
Sports | By

AFCON2015: Africa awaits new champs!

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IT may well turn out to be a long night of long swords as Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana look to settle the small matter of lifting the 30th African Cup of Nations trophy in a too-close-to-call final at Estadio de Bata.

Kickoff is 9pm.

The last time the two met at this stage, in 1992, it was a long and bruising battle which the Elephants won after a marathon penalty shootout.

Both the Black Stars and Elephants look prepared for the long haul, penalties even.

Both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire believe that this is Last Chance Saloon for a generation of players that have all too often flattered to deceive.

And both the Black Stars and the Elephants know that the fans back home will accept nothing short of victory tonight.

Ghana enters the arena after an embarrassing 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil.

Their camp resembled a haven of lunacy. There were reports of gross indiscipline which culminated in that infamous strike that forced the Ghanaian government to put together US$4 million in cash to settle a bonus row that had seen players threatening not to fulfil their second round clash with Portugal.

Those problems seem to be behind them as are the mammoth egos that derailed their 2014 World Cup outing. The Black Stars look more of a team than a collection of prancing prima donnas. And skipper Asamoah Gyan is fit to play after sitting out the 3-0 semi-final win over Equatorial Guinea. Gyan saved the campaign when Ghana faced early elimination following a 1-2 opening group match defeat to Senegal.

They needed a result against Algeria and Gyan, who played despite not having fully recovered from malaria, ensured it with a stoppage time winner. His return has boosted morale, vice-captain Andre Ayew testifies.

“Asamoah is a top guy, the leader of the team and it is good to have him for this game,” says the Olympique Marseille forward.

With the captain steering the ship, the younger of the Ayew brothers, Jordan, looks set to fall back to the bench despite a good performance that was iced with a cool penalty conversion in the humbling of an over-confident Equatorial Guinea. That will probably be the only personnel change that Ghana coach Avram Grant will make.

The Israeli is a strong believer in not tinkering with a winning team. The real changes will be tactical. Gyan will lead the attack with Andre Ayew moving from the centre to one of the wings and Kwesi Appiah switching from the wing to float just behind his captain.

As for the other camp, Elephants’ coach Herve Renard has reminded skipper Yaya Toure and his so-called Golden Generation that all their hard work will count for nothing if they don’t come out tops tonight. Football does not remember the runner-up. The 1992 champions have shifted gears up well at this tournament and the Frenchman, who won the trophy with Zambia in 2012, is ready for one last big performance.

“This is the biggest step and we need to make sure we take it well,” Renard told journalists during the week.

Yaya, by his own admission, has not set the tournament ablaze but he remains a big game player and a leader who has the respect of a star-studded Elephants dressing room.

The Manchester City talisman, who scored a bullet to open the scoring in the 3-1 semi-final win over the DRC, will once again be tasked with pulling the strings in the middle of the park with Die Serey offering support.

Renard appears to be pondering how best to use Max Gradel after the France-based midfielder had a below the boil show against the DRC.

Former Chelsea man Salomon Kalou came in for Gradel in the semi-final clash, but he does not seem to have done enough to ensure a starting slot, while some tactical juggling will have to be done to accommodate Cheik Tiote, the Newcastle United defensive midfielder.

Meanwhile, security has been boosted ahead of the final following crowd trouble which left 36 fans injured during the semi-final match between Ghana and Equatorial Guinea at Estadio de Malabo on Thursday.

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