19 January 2013

Ghana/Congo-Kinshasa: Black Stars Set to Eclipse Striking Leopards

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
Goal-scorers Kwadwo Asamoah of Ghana, left, and Tresor Mputu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, compete for the ball in Port Elizabeth.

Johannesburg — A player strike in the Democratic Republic of Congo camp overshadows the chances of the Leopards pulling off a shock result against top seeds Ghana in the opening Group B game at the African Nations Cup finals on Sunday.

Players refused to train on both Thursday and Friday as arguments over bonus payments took centre-stage and led to the cancellation of practice.

Coach Claude Le Roy's frustration boiled over into a resignation latter, although it is likely he will still be in charge come the game at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth after being talked off the ledge.

Le Roy will further extend his record for the most number of games coached at the Nations Cup but has arguably undergone the most difficult build-up to any of his seven appearances with a team at the finals.

Congo have had a tatty preparation, both in South Africa this week and previously in Oman, when half the team missed the start of their training camp and players arrived in dribs and drabs, with visa and other administrative problems bogging down their training camp.

Le Roy had planned intensive work in the build-up to the tournament in South Africa, saying he did not attach much value to warm-up matches but rather wanted work on the practice field.

But that has all taken a back seat as the time-honoured tradition of fighting over money before the tournament re-emerged..

So Ghana - already expected to be the dominant team after two impressive performances in warm-up matches in the Middle East - will start the game in an even more fancied position. The Black Stars scored seven goals in two games against two strong sides - beating Egypt 3-0 and then coming from two goals down to beast Tunisia 4-2.

Although there are many changes to the side and several senior elements - like Sulley Muntari, John Mensah and the Ayew brothers - are not available, Ghana keep up a consistent conveyor belt of talented players.

Asamoah Gyan captains the team now and will be keen to expunge the horror of the 2010 World Cup, when his missed penalty in the quarter-final against Uruguay cost the Ghanaians the honour of becoming the first African country to reach World Cup semi-finals.

He has already told reporters - perhaps tongue in cheek - he does not intend taking any penalties at the Nations Cup.

Ghana are among the pre-tournament favourites for South Africa but come in with the burden of seeking to end a run of more than three decades without trophy success

The Black Stars last won the Nations Cup in Libya in 1982, and have been in two finals since - the last in Angola just two years ago.

They have elected to go with a local coach - Kwesi Appiah - for this tournament after relying on Serbian inspiration for most of the last decade.

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