For all the hype surrounding the Ivory Coast and their “Golden Generation”, the raw promise of Nigeria and the hope provided by the hosts South Africa, Ghana have been comfortably the best and most efficient team at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Now, coming into a semi-final facing a Burkina Faso side that have surprised everyone, including themselves, to reach this stage, as well as being shorn of their most impressive player in Alain Traore, the Black Stars will be supremely confident of reaching their second final in three years, tantalisingly close to their fifth continental title and first in 31 years.
The challenge may be straight-forward, particularly if the Burkinabe can bring the sort of display that held fellow semi-finalists Nigeria to a draw, before ripping minnows Ethiopia apart days later. However, without the injured Traore, Paul Pot’s men struggled against Togo in their quarter-final, albeit on a desperately poor playing surface, and needed a piece of goalkeeping misjudgement to allow Jonathan Pitroipa to head home the winner in extra time.
Thus, although the Burkinabe may at least have the experience of playing on the frankly embarrassing Nelspruit pitch, the physical exertions of their victory over Togo, in comparison to Ghana’s more mundane 2-0 quarter-final victory over minnows Cape Verde a full 24 hours earlier, mean the odds are heavily stacked in the Black Stars’ favour.
This does not even mention the accomplished performances shown by Kwesi Appiah’s team in South Africa so far. Indeed, the team appear to have learned from their opening match, when after impressively racing into a two-goal lead against the fancied Democratic Republic of Congo, the Leopards were allowed to claim a point against their rather complacent opponents. However, since then Ghana have not conceded a single goal and have professionally, if not exactly spectacularly, seen off Mali, Niger and then Cape Verde in the last eight.
The sceptics will, with some justification, claim that the Ghanaians have hardly had the most taxing route to the last four, particularly considering the Ivory Coast faced Algeria, Tunisia and an Emmanuel Adebayor-led Togo before finally falling to an inspired Nigeria side containing many household names, but the old adage is you can only beat what is put in front in you and Ghana have certainly shown no mercy in doing so.
Appiah certainly took a risk in leaving out the likes of Andre and Jordan Ayew, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Sulley Muntari and John Mensah from his squad for South Africa 2013 but it appears to have worked so far, with Asamoah Gyan, though only scoring once so far, leading the line superbly.
Gyan has been ably assisted by the irrepressible Kwadwo Asamoah in midfield and wideman Mubarak Wakaso, who after only making his debut for the Black Stars in November 2012 has scored three times in this tournament, including twice against Cape Verde, to take his tally to five in seven matches for his country.
The romantics may be supporting Burkina Faso on Wednesday afternoon in Nelspruit but for those who prefer the balance of fairness, the progress of Ghana into the final will be a deserving one based on what we have seen so far.
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