Stars battle to remain upbeat

2008-02-08 22:08
Kumasi - It was supposed to be the dream final of the 2008 Africa Nations Cup, hosts Ghana against all-star Ivory Coast.

But instead of a Sunday showdown in Accra for the greatest African football prize, the Black Stars and the Elephants face the mental and physical torture of a third place play-off here on Saturday.

While finishing third in arguably the greatest edition of the 51-year tournament will be a major achievement, French coaches Claude le Roy of Ghana and Gerard Gili of Ivory Coast are going to find motivation a difficult task.

Trophy symbolises team supremacy

The teams are down and out after shock semi-final losses to Cameroon and Egypt on Thursday and are probably looking forward to the bronze-medal battle with as much relish as pacifists would have for military exercises.

After defeating Nigeria with 10 men in the quarter-finals, Ghana fancied their chances of becoming the third consective hosts after Tunisia and Egypt to lift the trophy that symbolises African national team supremacy.

But the absence of suspended captain-cum-defender John Mensah, and midfielder Laryea Kingston and striker Asamoah Gyan through injury, proved too great a burden and cunning Cameroon snatched a 1-0 victory in Accra.

Ivory Coast were far hotter favourites against the team they lost to in the 2006 final, but whereas Egypt needed a penalty shootout then, they simply ripped the west Africans defence apart to triumph 4-1 in Kumasi.

Ghana have appeared in only one third place play-off, losing by a solitary goal to Zambia in Johannesburg 12 years ago as the sun set on the international career of legendary Black Star Abedi 'Pele' Ayew.

Some retain first choice selections

Ivory Coast have appeared in the penultimate fixture five times, winning against Senegal (1965), Ethiopia (1968), Morocco (1986) and Mali (1994) with the sole blip a 3-1 loss to Egypt in the 1970 play-off.

Some coaches view the match as a chance to give those who faithfully warmed the bench throughout the tournament a chance to shine, while others retain first choice selections.

The outcome at the 45 000-seat Baba Yara Stadium in this central city could come down to which coach fields the strongest side and recharges best those flat batteries.

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