Stars’ time for revenge to qualify for finale

Black stars captain, Asamoah Gyan

Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan looks ready to start against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun when the two sides clash in the second semi-finals game of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament at the Stade de Franceville in Gabon.

It is perhaps the most anticipated clash at the penultimate stage of the competition as it pits two of the competition’s most successful sides – Ghana as the first four-time winners in 1982 and the Lions achieving a similar feat two decades later in Mali.

Gyan, who limped out of the Black Stars’ group clash with Egypt with a thigh injury and missed the team’s quarter-finals game with DR Congo in Oyem last Sunday, has almost regained full fitness and is a sure candidate for the team’s starting line-up against the Lions, as Avram Grant seeks to go into the crucial match at full strength.

The striker was an unused substitute against DR Congo but the Stars coach avoided the risk of throwing his most reliable goal-scorer into a physical game when he was not fully fit, particularly when young striker, Jordan Ayew, had stepped up to the plate as the lead striker.

Now, after a week’s rest while Serbian traditional healer Amariana Kovacevic, an auxiliary member of the Stars’ medical team, applied the famed ‘horse placenta treatment’ to accelerate Gyan’s healing process, the veteran of six AFCON tournaments is set to return for a landmark game.

Playing at the semi-finals has become a routine exercise for the striker, who has since 2008 featured in the last four of the showpiece tournament.

Significantly, both him and deputy captain Andre Ayew featured in the Black Stars team that lost 0-1 to the Lions in the semi-finals of the 2008 tournament hosted by Ghana. And it was also the last time the two teams clashed at any level.

Nine years since that painful loss to the Lions on home soil, Gyan has an opportunity to make amends as leader of the Stars, and featuring tomorrow will be a moment he would relish as he makes his iconic 100th international appearance for the national team.

And how memorable it would be if he registers his name on the score sheet against the Lions, as he is one goal shy of his 50-goal mark.

Yesterday the Stars continued their preparation ahead of the big clash at their Bongoville training pitch with Coach Grant giving little away regarding the composition of his team, even though his captain focused on his fitness training under the guidance of one of the team’s fitness instructors.

Grant made no substitution against DR Congo which was a strong indication of the team’s fitness and tomorrow he goes into the game with a clean bill of health and unlikely to tinker much with his starting line-up.

There are strong indications the Israeli will start his captain on top of the attack with Joran Ayew and his brother Andre playing just behind the captain while Thomas Teye Partey moves back to the holding midfield role alongside the combative Wakaso Mubarak to give the team a solid midfield capable of holding the physical Camerounians in check.

Ghana’s back four is set to revolve around diminutive Harrison Afful, Frank Acheampong and the central defensive pair of Daniel Amartey and John Boye providing cover for under-fire goalkeeper Razak Braimah who was hit with a $2,500 fine and a strong reprimand for taking to social media to vent his anger against his critics using foul language.

None of the members of the Cameroun side was part of the team that defeated Ghana 1-0, and despite their absence from the showpiece event at the 2012 and 2013 tournaments, and also failing to go past the group stage of the last tournament in Equatorial Guinea, the Lions are back hoping to roar again.

Coach Hugo Broos’ side have managed to reach the last four without dominating their matches, but the relatively inexperienced side proved their big match temperament by coming from behind to silence a determined Guinea Bissau side at the group stage and also stripping the Sadio Mane-led Senegal of their terror to advance to the semi-finals via the lottery of penalties, which saw goalkeeper Fabrice Onda pulling off some great saves.

The Lions, who are struggling to find their spark, will play a physical game against a Ghanaian side who prefer to place the ball on the pitch to dominate possession and find space behind the opposing defence to score.

And in Gyan and the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, Grant has scoring options and gifted players such as Christian Atsu, who will be deployed to run at his markers and create chances just as he had done in previous matches here in Gabon.

However, Grant says he is counting on the experience and winning mentality of his charges to ensure they tame the Lions and book a second successive appearance in the final, as the Stars hope to end a 35-year wait and atone for the loss in 2015.

Historically, clashes between the two sides at various competitions have favoured Ghana who have won six of their last 14 clashes dating back to 1967, even though encounters at the Nations Cup have been few and far between, with their last clash settled by Alain N’kong’s late strike nine years ago in Accra.

Their previous two encounters dates back 1982 and 2000 both of which ended in draws.

Source: GraphicOnline