Feb 06, 2013 at 12:35pm
AFCON Semi-Final Stage
COMMENTARY ON THE 29TH EDITION OF THE WEST AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS SEMI-FINAL STAGE
The 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations has reached the semi-final stage with West Africa proving once again that it is the powerhouse of football on the continent.
Out of the 16 nations which qualified to participate in the South Africa 2013 tournament, seven of them came from West Africa.
The pack is led by four time champions Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Togo.
The rest are Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
All the seven nations progressed from the group stages to the quarter finals.
However, the tournament’s favourites, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and the Hawks of Togo were eliminated by their neighbours, the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Stallions of Burkina Faso.
Jokingly, some football analysts have christened the knockout stage of the tournament the West Africa Cup of Nations, WAFCON, deservedly, so because the semi-finals to be played tomorrow, will be an all West African affair.
While the senior national team, the Black Stars will engage their Burkinabe counterparts in the second match of the day at the Nelspruit sports stadium, Nigeria will also lock horns with Mali.
Burkina Faso will seek to exact revenge against the Black Stars who beat them one nil in a group match during the Angola 2010 tournament.
The first time the Burkinabes played in the semi-finals was in 1998 when it hosted the tournament.
On the evidence of their quarter final match against Togo in Nelspruit, the Stallions have demonstrated that they have the stamina to play for more than 120 minutes.
Beside that they also have the physique and some sort of an advantage over the pitch.
This is because they have become familiar with the sand-soaked pitch, which has attracted a lot of condemnation.
Though the Black Stars still remain one of the favourites to lift the trophy, clearly they are the underdogs in tomorrow’s match.
This is by far, the most difficult match to be played by the Black Stars and a daunting one to overcome.
For Kwasi Appiah and the players, all the odds are against them.
However, the Black Stars have proven in recent times that when the odds are clearly against them, they are able to surmount them.
Though stamina and physique count a lot in football, individual talents become crucial when the going gets tough and here lies the strength of the Black Stars team.
It will be a difficult match but trust the Black Stars to make it to the final.
In Ghana 2008, the Black Stars placed third by beating Cote d’Ivoire three-one in Kumasi.
Two years later in Angola, the Black Stars lost one nil to the Pharaohs of Egypt in the final to settle for the second place.
Last year, the team got to the semi-final but, were eliminated by the eventual winners, the Chipolopolo of Zambia.
It placed fourth in that tournament.
The Vice President Paa Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur is expected to lead a high-powered government delegation to deliver a special goodwill message from the President and the people of Ghana to the Black Stars before they troupe to the field to play Burkina Faso.
This morale boosting gesture is welcome at this crucial time.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria came second in Group C to qualify for the quarter finals.
Indeed, football is full of uncertainties and surprises.
Nobody dreamt about Nigeria beating the overwhelming favourites, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, two-one, judging from the performances of the two nations in their group matches.
Nigeria undoubtedly have the edge but Mali are determined to move from the third place they chalked up a year ago in Gabon-Equatorial Guinea.
They beat Ghana two nil to achieve that feat.
In that same tournament, Ghana and Mali were in the same group and they both went to the semi-finals but were unfortunately eliminated by Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire.
Coincidentally, the two teams again found themselves in the same group in South Africa AFCON 2013 and are in the semi-finals.
This time, the two nations that curtailed their efforts have been eliminated from the tournament.
Would this therefore suggest a Ghana-Mali final or another third place match?
Looking forward to a mouth-watering, rekindling of old aged rivalry and revenge filled final between Ghana and Nigeria.
We should also not rule out any surprises from either Mali or Burkina Faso.
The Black Stars last won the African cup in Libya in 1982 while Nigeria also lifted it in 1994 in Tunisia.
Out of the ten past winners of the cup who also qualified for the finals in South Africa, three are from West Africa.
They are Ghana, four times, Nigeria, two times, and Cote d’Ivoire, ones.
The 2013 AFCON will pass off as the tournament for West Africa.
The focus now is the country that will lift the glittering trophy but the joy is for all West Africans.
BY: SETH EYIAH