Ghana vs Cameroon 10pm
Franceville, Gabon | AFP |
The nearly men of African football in recent years, Ghana go into a sixth consecutive semi-final at the Cup of Nations when they face Cameroon in Franceville on Thursday.
The Black Stars have not won the trophy since 1982, instead gaining a reputation for coming up just short all too often over the last decade.
Avram Grant’s side lost on penalties to the Ivory Coast in the final two years ago, while their current run of near misses began with a 1-0 last-four defeat to Cameroon at home in Accra in 2008.
But in Gabon they have seemed like a side on a mission to end their long title drought and a 2-1 quarter-final win over DR Congo in Oyem on Sunday, secured thanks to a goal each from the Ayew brothers, took them through to the last four.
“It’s not just by chance but by the hard work the team has put in,” Ghana’s assistant coach Maxwell Konadu told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the Black Stars’ consistency at the tournament.
“The players are always willing to do something for their nation. One thing we all dream to achieve is to win the cup this time around.”
Konadu confirmed that Ghana are hopeful of having skipper Asamoah Gyan — a survivor of the 2008 squad — back fit from the adductor injury suffered in their last group game against Egypt and that kept him out of the DR Congo win.
Meanwhile, Razak Brimah will hope to keep his place in goal despite being fined $2,500 by the Ghanaian FA after upsetting supporters with an outburst on Facebook.
Razak said he was responding to insults directed at his mother but nevertheless issued an official apology.
“I accept that as an ambassador for my country Ghana and a role model for many across the globe, I should not have reacted this way,” said the 29-year-old.
The sedate town of Franceville, set amidst lush green rolling hills around the Mpassa river, was the venue for Cameroon’s penalty shoot-out win over Senegal in the last round.
So while Ghana had to travel to the south-east of Gabon from Oyem, Cameroon were able to stay at their base in the nearby town of Moanda, one of the biggest manganese producers in the world.
There Hugo Broos’s side have been preparing in the knowledge they have already exceeded expectations in making it this far.
Their build-up has been slightly tarnished over a disagreement relating to bonuses, with Broos saying the country’s federation has shown the team “a lack of respect”.
But the coach insisted that the issue will not be held up as an excuse if their run ends here.
“We have not been happy since the start of the tournament but you have never seen that on the field,” he said.
“If we lose it will not be because the money is not good, it will be because Ghana are better than us.”
Cameroon progressed from their group at the expense of hosts Gabon and then edged out a much-fancied Senegal thanks to a Sadio Mane miss in a penalty shoot-out that followed a goalless draw.
They have put behind them the withdrawals of key players before the competition, including Joel Matip and Eric Choupo-Moting, and are flourishing under their Belgian coach.
“The players who didn’t come have their own personal reasons why they didn’t come and we are not looking back,” said the defender Fai Collins.
Collins remembers well the win against Ghana at the same stage nine years ago when the Indomitable Lions side featured stars like Samuel Eto’o and Rigobert Song.
“I remember I was at home, watching the game with my parents,” he said.
“It was an extraordinary feeling for us beating Ghana knowing they had a very good squad. Now I am here and I hope I can have the same feeling as I did back then.