Ivory Coast vs Ghana | Sunday 08 February | Bata | 21:00
The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations has been blessed with a dream final. West African giants Ivory Coast and Ghana have been the best nations on the continent in the last decade and both are desperate to get their hands on the title which has eluded them for so many years. 1992 champions Ivory Coast booked their place in the final following a 3-1 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bata on Wednesday evening. The Black Stars moved a step closer to ending their 33-year wait for another AFCON title after defeating hosts Equatorial Guinea 3-0 in the tournament’s second semi-final, played in Malabo amid controversy on Thursday night.
To Win (90mins)
Ivory Coast 27/20
To Win Outright
Ivory Coast 6/10
Goals from Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Serge Wilfried Kanon secured the Elephants' place in the AFCON final for the third time in nine years. Despite always having the most talented team in Africa in recent times, the Elephants have struggled with expectations. They have a single Nations Cup title and have been bounced from the group stage of three consecutive World Cups despite usually being among the dark horses to go far in the tournament. They have twice come close to adding a second AFCON title but lost on penalties in the finals of both 2006 and 2012. However, coach Herve Renard believes things will be different this time. He believes his side are being spurred on by their past disappointments at the tournament.
“This is not the Ivory Coast of the past. There are a lot of new players who I’m sure not many of you knew about before this tournament. These new players worked very hard in the preparations and showed me they are able to play in the starting line-up. We have a good balance between those who work hard and those with a lot of talent. I think this combination is perfect of the Ivory Coast.” Renard was the coach of Zambia who defeated the Elephants 8-7 on penalties in the 2012 final and his experience on this stage can only benefit his team.
Ivory Coast’s defence were labelled a weakness heading into the tournament following a dodgy qualifying campaign, but since playing a new 3-4-3 formation, they have only shipped four goals in five matches. They started the tournament with two dour draws but upped their game when it counted most, beating Cameroon to top Group D. They were handed the toughest quarter-final draw against Algeria and a Wilfried Bony brace inspired them to a 3-1 victory. This will be the Ivorians’ best chance of clinching the title for years to come as they still have some of the last of their ‘Golden Generation’. Yaya Toure finally came alive in the semi-finals, scoring a scorcher to give Ivory Coast their first goal. The Manchester City midfielder has come under scrutiny for failing to perform at his best for the national team, but his semi-final performance will do him the world of good heading into this clash.
Ghana have found their rhythm and come into the final in a confident mood. After starting the tournament slowly, the four-time champions gradually found their groove and now look the team of the tournament. They claimed a deserved and comprehensive victory over hosts Equatorial Guinea thanks to goals from the Ayew brothers and Mubarak Wakaso. There was a prolonged delay with less than ten minutes to play when a large contingent of Ghanaian supporters moved down out of the stands to place themselves behind the goal their side was attacking in the second half, due to missiles aimed at them from home supporters. The match was eventually restarted and completed without further incident.
Ghana started the tournament in disappointing fashion, losing 2-1 to Senegal but went on to beat the continent’s number one ranked side, Algeria, and then outplayed South Africa to clinch a quarter-final spot. They were pitted against Guinea who had managed draws against Ivory Coast and Cameroon in the knockout stages, but showed their quality winning 3-0. The Black Stars have not won the tournament since 1982, despite making the semi-final in all of the last four competitions, losing to Egypt in the 2010 final. Asamoah Gyan remains a doubt for the final after missing the semi-final through injury. The Black Stars captain has remained an inspiration for his country and he will likely be forced to start here ahead of Jordan Ayew.
VERDICT: Ivory Coast 27/20
Looking at the two teams, there is not much that separates them. However, Ivory Coast have more game-changers who have stepped up at different times during the tournament to help their team advance. Ghana have taken their chances but don’t look as lethal as Ivory Coast do in attack. The Elephants have failed time and time again to get the most of their talented team, but with Renard at the helm they are tipped to finally capture the African title. Ivory Coast are tipped to get the win in normal time.