Ghana vs Equatorial Guinea | Thursday 05 February | Malabo | 21:00
An Ivory Coast vs. Ghana final is on the cards for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Four-time champions Ghana will take on the hosts Equatorial Guinea in the second semi-final on Thursday evening hoping to finally claim the trophy after 33 years of falling short on numerous occasions.
To Win (90mins)
Equatorial Guinea 4/1
Equatorial Guinea 2/1
Ghana eased into their fifth consecutive AFCON semi-final by thrashing Guinea 3-0. Christian Atsu set the Black Stars on their way after only four minutes, stroking in from Andre Ayew's clever backheel. Guinea gifted Ghana a second when Baissama Sankoh horribly sliced a clearance and Kwesi Appiah ran clean through on goal to slot home. Atsu made it 3-0 after the hour, coming in from the right touchline to strike an outrageous shot into the top corner. From the start of the game there looked like there was going to be only one winner as Ghana barely had to break sweat to defeat Guinea, who had qualified for the last eight through the drawing of lots at the expense of Mali. Ghana, who are seeking their fifth title and first since 1982, took their time to make the superiority tell - seemingly content to play within themselves in the face of a non-existent threat from their opponents. The win takes Ghana through to face hosts Equatorial Guinea and barring complacency - or the sort of fortune that the home side enjoyed on Saturday night in beating Tunisia - it is hard to see them failing to make the final now.
The victory over Guinea was a far cry from the shocking performances of the first two games, when Avram Grant seemed unable to coax the best from his talented squad. But in Atsu and Appiah he seems to have found a new generation of threatening forwards. Ghana skipper Asamoah Gyan, who spearheads the attack, is a huge doubt for this clash after picking up an injury against Guinea. Gyan was the victim of a horrendous tackle from the Guinea goalkeeper, who got an early shower for his troubles. Gyan recovered from Malaria to score the all important goal in their 1-0 win against favourites Algeria in the group stages.
Equatorial Guinea beat Tunisia in controversial circumstances to reach the semi-finals. Tunisia looked destined for the last four after scoring in the 70th minute. The hosts, ranked 96 places below Tunisia, sent the match into extra-time when Javier Balboa netted an injury-time penalty after a dubious decision by the referee to award Ivan Bolado a penalty from what looked to be a dive. Balboa went on to score the winner with a fantastic free-kick from 25 yards. The minnows only entered the tournament in November when they replaced Morocco as hosts because of the Ebola crisis. They had been eliminated from qualifying after fielding an ineligible player, only hired coach Esteban Becker eleven days before the tournament and gave five players debuts in a pre-tournament friendly. However, after two draws with Congo and Burkina Faso, they managed to qualify from Group A thanks to a victory over Gabon in their final game.
Few neutrals expected Becker to lead the hosts to a win, let alone a quarter-final - and yet they negotiated the group stage without losing a single game. Becker, who was in charge of the women’s national team, has managed to turn the hosts into a wonderfully organised counterattacking unit, while at the same time fostering a fantastic team spirit, as so wonderfully illustrated by the spontaneous outbreak of dancing that preceded the final whistle in the win over Gabon. Felipe Ovono was key to the victory over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Co, ensuring his status as one of the stars of the tournament. Captain Emilio Nsue, who plays for Middlesbrough, has offered energy and quality in abundance up front, picking up two Man of the Match awards, while Balboa has proven a constant threat out wide - as well as a nerveless penalty-taker and dead-ball specialist. However, it feels wrong to pick out individuals when Equatorial Guinea are all about the collective.
VERDICT: Ghana 15/20
The hosts have benefitted from a weak draw and beneficial officiating thus far, but Equatorial Guinea's miracle run looks likely to come to an end against Ghana. The Black Stars were upset by Senegal in the opening game, but have been arguably the best team in the tournament since. Ghana are tipped to hand Equatorial Guinea their first loss of the tournament.