FRANCEVILLE, Gabon – On the verge of the quarterfinals at the African Cup of Nations, Ghana’s one remaining obstacle in Group D is a Guinea team which is desperate to reach the knockout stage.
Victories over Botswana and Mali have put Ghana within a point of being certain of qualifying as group winner, while Guinea and Mali — who are equal on three points — both have a chance of going through.
With Mali expected to beat Botswana in the other Group D match, Guinea knows it likely has to pull off a shock against Ghana at Stade de Franceville on Wednesday to have a chance.
A win for the Guineans along with the predicted victory for Mali would land all three teams on six points and bring goal difference into the equation to decide the quarterfinalists.
Ghana’s work is not done yet and maybe the African Cup has one more surprise before the quarterfinals.
“Against Ghana it will be like a final,” Guinea coach Michel Dussuyer said. “We have respect for them but we want to win, we want to qualify for the quarterfinals.”
Ghana has no choice but to be wary of a Guinea team that hammered Botswana 6-1 — when the Ghanaians could only scrape a 1-0 victory over the group outsiders.
By scoring six goals, Guinea equaled the record for most goals in an African Cup game and made “a very important point,” Dussuyer said. He promised his team would try to impose its style of play on the title contender.
Speedy winger Abdoul Razzagui Camara and striker Sadio Diallo were rampant against the Botswanans, while centre forward Ismael Bangoura should hit form sooner or later after threatening without luck through Guinea’s first two games.
Guinea is also no stranger to tense finishes — or upsetting big teams — having claimed a last-minute draw in Nigeria in its last qualifying match to seal its place at the tournament.
And while Ghana is the strongest candidate to top the group and sail through to the quarterfinals, the overconfidence it displayed to struggle to a narrow win over Botswana was a worry.
“Everything is cool in the camp,” Ghana assistant coach Kwesi Appiah said, shrugging off concerns of a high-pressure finish for the Black Stars, who could still dramatically slip up and follow the likes of Senegal and Morocco out of the tournament.
Ghana was impressive to see off Mali, however, with forwards Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew its standout players. Gyan has also been playing with right ankle and hamstring injuries, suggesting Ghana will be even better when he’s fully fit.
“It’s true that I am playing through pain,” Gyan said, “life goes on.”
Ghana will be further boosted on Wednesday by the availability of central defenders Isaac Vorsah and captain John Mensah, who have both served suspensions to be back in contention.
Mali should beat Botswana in Libreville at the same time to put itself in pole position for the quarterfinals. The Malians just have to see off the underdog, which was completely outclassed by Guinea in its last match and yet retains hope of a first win at the African Cup.
“I just told my players what has happened, we can never reverse it,” Botswana coach Stanley Tshosane said after the Guinea rout. “We must accept it and continue with our mission.
“We want to return to our country with a win so we are going all out against Mali, no favours. No one gave us any favours to be here. We had to work hard so they (Mali) must work hard also.”