AFCON 2015 semis: Beware of the underdogs!by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – A topsy-turvy 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations *AFCON) resumes on Wednesday with clashes pitting the nearly-men of African football and the surprise packages of the biennial tournament ongoing in the Equatorial Guinea.
To many a football follower, the semifinals are just a formality with a final between perennial favourites Ghana and West African rivals Ivory Coast at the Estadio de Bata in the coastal city of this oil-rich country a foregone conclusion.
Ahead of the Last Four matches, starting on Wednesday, Ivory Coast’s Elephants are favourites to trample on the DRC’s unconvincing Leopards and book a place at the final and add on to their sole gold medal attained 23 years ago.
Led by English reigning champions, Manchester City, star midfielder Yaya Toure, recently-named the African Footballer of the Year, the Ivoirians have their tusks up following a 3-1 quarterfinal win over Algeria, the continent’s highest ranked side, preceded by victories against sworn rivals Cameroon and a draw against Guinea and Mali in the group stages.
A tie against a Congolese side that emerged from the group stages with three straight draws only to turn on the style to knock neighbours Congo Brazzaville out, has the scales heavily tipped in favour of the “Coastans” winning the tournament they last won in 1992 in Senegal.
However, analysts warned it would be folly for the high-riding West African side to underestimate the former Zaire, who are however a pale shadow of the side that clinched this tournament in 1968 and 1974.
The so-called favourites can underestimate their opponents at their own peril, analysts warned.
“If Yannick Bolasie has a good game for them, then the favourites will become the underdogs. Veteran and colourful goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba is actually doing well and the team feeds off his energy.
“He is determined to say goodbye to the game on a high,” African football expert, Christopher Dube, said as he projected an upset was on the cards.
“I see Ivory Coast thriving more on individual brilliance. Gervinho, Gradel and Wilfried Bony have been sparkling as individuals but have not yet produced any team effort,” the Johannesburg-based analyst added.
Ahead of the second semifinal scheduled for the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo on Saturday, Ghana, for the umpteenth time, are carrying the favourites tag against the host nation that has already exceeded expectations by reaching the last four, albeit under controversial officiating circumstances.
The Black Stars, who last clinched the most coveted title in African football in Libya 33 years ago (the writer of this articles was a newly-born) are in familiar company alongside the Elephants- perennial favourites but perpetual chokers.
A clinical performance, three goals without reply, against the qualifiers-by-ballots, Guinea, has bookmakers, haters and fans tipping the Black Stars to shine in this match at the expense of the “other Guinea.”
Dube, however, projected it would not be a stroll in the park idle stroll for the four-time champions.
“Equatorial Guinea will either be thrashed or spring another surprise,” he said of the surprise package-cum-host team that sent former champions, Tunisia, crashing out kicking and screaming out of the tournament.
“One thing for sure, that game will start at a frantic pace. Ghana have the stars and Equatorial Guinea have the home ground hydrenalin,” he added.
The final of the Africa Cup of Nations is scheduled for Sunday.
The semifinal losers will contest the third/fourth place playoff a day earlier.
– CAJ News
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