28 January 2013

Ghana/Niger: Black Stars Determined to Reach Africa Cup of Nations Semi-Finals Again

Nelspruit — Ghana go into their final pool stage game with the chance of finishing as winners of Group B.

Their opponents, Niger, have an outside possibility of qualifying for the last eight. To do that they have to beat the Black Stars, they'll then have four points like Ghana but will advance on the head-to-head record irrespective of what happens in the match with Democratic Republic of Congo.

It's a precarious position for Ghana who were semi-finalists at the last competition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. They lost in the final in Angola three years ago.

Failure to reach the knockout stages would probably hamper the longevity of coach Kwesi Appiah. This is his first Cup of Nations in charge of Ghana after he replaced Goran Stevanovic who was removed after the last tournament.

Ghana midfielder Albert Adomah says the mission against Niger is simple: "If we can beat Niger we'll finish top and stay in Port Elizabeth. We've won one, drawn one. We want to win again and qualify."

The 25-year-old, who plays for English second division side Bristol City, adds: "We knew it was going to be difficult against Mali. And we won that 1-0."

The winners of Group B will play Cape Verde. South Africa await Group B's runners-up.

Adomah, who's playing in his first Africa Cup of Nations, says: "I've played two games so far. I think I've done well. We haven't lost yet. Hopefully there will be three more matches after the one against Niger ."

Appiah will have to reshuffle the front line due to the absence of striker Wakaso Mubarak. He misses the game against Niger through suspension. The 22-year-old Espanyol player picked up his second yellow card of the tournament during the match against Mali.

He celebrated converting a penalty by lifting his shirt to reveal a religious message. The gesture contravenes competition rules and the sanction means that his first Cup of Nations could be memorable for a crucial goal and a needless caution.

Defender Harrison Afful says Mubarak has been a revelation in attack. "It's a big blow for us that he'll miss the game. But there's a big squad and when someone is not in, someone else is capable of coming and playing well. That's why we're all here.

"We're hoping that everything will go well for us and we'll be into the quarter finals where he might be able to play again."

Niger are in their second consecutive Africa Cup of Nations and, in comparison to Ghana, are lightweights of African football.

Afful says he won't be underestimating them: "If they're here at the tournament it means they're a good team. In football anything can happen, we'll do our homework and prepare well for the game."

In 2012, the Mena lost all three group stage games. The draw against Democratic Republic of Congo last Thursday saw them collect their first point at an Africa Cup of Nations. With the former Gabon coach Gernot Rohr at the helm, the Black Stars will have a difficult assignment.

"The boys were running around, concentrating and keeping their tactical discipline against Mali," says Ghana skipper John Paintsil: "I was very impressed by their performance. We'll have to do more of the same against Niger."

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