Hosts fail to take chances as Ghana reach Africa Cup semis with 1-0 win.
|Pick that one out: Ghana captain Richard Kingson retrieves a ball during training [Paul Rhys]|
Football rivalries in Africa don’t come much bigger than Ghana against Nigeria.
Although geographically separated by Togo and Benin, the two West African powerhouses consider each other nuisance neighbours when it comes to being top dogs in the region.
And as they prepare to meet in an Africa Cup of Nations semi-final in the Angolan capital, rarely have the two glared over the fence at each other from positions of such similar strength.
Both have qualified for the World Cup this summer, and while Nigeria are 12 places above the Black Stars at 22nd in the Fifa world rankings, Ghana have won two of their last three encounters.
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“It’s very important for we Ghanaians when we play Nigeria. We are neighbours,” striker Asamoah Gyan said at the team hotel on Tuesday.
“We beat them two years ago in the Nations Cup in Accra and we beat them 4-1 in a friendly the year before.
“They are coming strong against us. They don’t want us to beat them for a third time in three years.”
The winners will go into a January 31 final against either Algeria or Egypt, who also play on Thursday in a resumption of hostilities after Algeria’s stormy World Cup playoff victory in November.
Ghana spent Tuesday morning at a training session in Luanda while the Super Eagles undertook the long flight from Lubango in the far south after beating Zambia on penalties the night before.
And while Ghana haven’t played since Gyan scored to dump out hosts Angola in the capital on Sunday, the big forward said he didn’t believe the extra rest would make much difference.
“You never know what will happen when Ghana play Nigeria,” he said.
|Gyan enjoys his goal against Angola [EPA]|
One thing that is certain is that the 24-year-old Rennes striker, who played in the 2006 World Cup, will be fired up for the encounter.
Scoring the only goal against Angola at the November 11 stadium on Sunday, he put his finger to his lips to silence 50,000 home fans after receiving taunts about the scoreline before the game.
“When we went to the stadium the Angolan fans were saying, ‘We will beat you 3-0.’ They were even saying they would beat us 5-0,” he told Al Jazeera.
“So when I scored, I told them to be quiet.
“You can beat Ghana, but not 5-0. People were saying things that they knew weren’t true.
“When I scored I had built up a lot of nerves, but now everyone is calm and I want to say sorry to the Angola fans that they didn’t qualify.”
After dominating African football in the 1960s and 70s, taking three titles, the Black Stars have not won the Africa Cup of Nations since 1982.
Thursday January 28
Nigeria followed up their second win in 1994 with Olympic Gold two years later, and qualified for three consecutive World Cups in a golden age between 1994 and 2002 – missing out in 2006 when Ghana qualified for the first time.
And with eight players in their squad from the victorious Under-20 World Cup campaign in Egypt last year, Ghana may have the edge in terms of recent big-tournament experience, despite missing top players like Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari.
One element that could cause problems is the November 11 pitch, which has been cutting up badly since the start of the tournament on January 10.
“The first time we played there it was very difficult but we got used to it,” said Gyan.
“We’re Africans. Even though we play in Europe, when we go on holiday and play with our friends we play on more horrible fields than this.
“But it doesn’t matter how rough the pitch is – we are ready to face any team.”