We are at the business end of the African Cup of Nations, where Ivory Coast will take on Ghana in the final showdown at the Estadio de Bata.
Both sides, despite boasting plethora of stars all over the World, have been relative minnows in the competition. Ghana last won the continental trophy in 1982, while Ivory Coasts last success came 10 years later, ironically against their Sunday’s opponents.
The Elephant’s qualified for only the 4th time for the AFCON finals after they overcame a stubborn DR Congo side 1-3 in the semi-finals. The Black Stars meanwhile qualified at the cost of hosts Equatorial Guinea, steamrolling past Esteban Becker’s charges with a 3-0 victory.
Hervé Renard will again will have to do without the services of midfielder Cheick Tiote, who hasn’t appeared for his nation since IvoryCoast’s 1-1 draw against Mali in the group stage.
Avram Grant’s Ghana meanwhile are sweating on captain Asamoah Gyan’s fitness, though he might just make it to the decider. The Al Ain forward, injured his hip in the quarter-final against Guinea, and consequently sat out the 3-0 semi-final win over Equatorial Guinea on Thursday.
Wilfried Bony vs Jonathan Mensah
Manchester City’s £28m recruit will have a point to prove in the final before he returns to his new club to justify his hefty price-tag. The former Swansea striker has already netted 2 goals, assisting 3 with his intelligent overall play, and the Elephants’ spearhead needs to find his feet running against an Avram Grant managed defence. Mensah, although not a regular with his club Évian in the Ligue 1, has started each of Ghana’s 5 games, keeping 3 clean sheets in the process.
André Ayew vs Serge Aurier
Already won 62 caps for his nation, Marseille attacker André Ayew is now an experienced figure in the Black Cats camp at the age of just 25. Now tournament’s top scorer with 3 goals, the attacking trident including him, Kwesi Appiah and Christian Atsu have shared 6 goals between them. PSG full-back will have to keep his marauding runs in-check to stifle the in-form Ghana number 10.
Yaya Touré vs Wakaso Mubarak
Perhaps tournament’s most famed figure and mostly watched player, Yaya Touré knows how important it will be to turn out in the final. Playing in a more withdrawn role with more defensive duties, the 24 crore population nation will look at their captain to lead their side to glory after 23 long years. Former Villareal and Espanyol midfielder Wakaso, who is having a brilliant tournament himself, will be quite aware how important it will be to suppress Touré if his side are to get a positive result.
-Cote d’Ivoire haven’t won the competition since 1992
-Ghana haven’t won the competition since 1982
-André Ayew is tournament’s top scorer with 3 goals.
-Ghana have kept 3 clean sheets in the AFCON
Ivory Coast boss Hervé Renard won the competition with Zambia in 2012, and was in same spirits ahead of the final.
“I’m feeling every day the same way and same team spirit that we had with Zambia in 2012”
“Of course, there’s always a different story with every team in football but I would like to congratulate my players because they have all put in a lot of effort in this Afcon, including the ones people would refer to as the big stars.”
“They’re performing. They have forgotten their star status and put the team first and I’ve been reminding them that some of them would be coming to the AFCON for the last time and if they don’t win now, they will never do.”
Former Chelsea manager Avram Grant meanwhile praised his side, motivating to show them more of their abilities, while also expecting a tough encounter.
“We’ve shown a lot of motivation up to now and we’ll show a lot in the final”
“We have seen quality players and quality football through this tournament but we can expect even more.”
“There are a lot of good players in both line-ups and I think because of that we can expect a quality final.”
Cote d’Ivoire: (3-4-2-1): Gbohouo; Bailly, Kanon, K.Touré; Aurier, Y.Touré, Die, Tiéné; Gervinho, Gradel; Bony.
Ghana: (4-2-3-1): Brimah; Afful, Boye, Mensah, Baba; Wakaso, Acquah; Atsu, Appiah, Ayew; Gyan.
My Prediction: 2-0
Avram Grant has marshalled his defence extremely well in the tournament, managing 3 clean sheets. But this Ivory Coast side will be too hot to handle for his comparatively young defence novice to such huge occasions.