20 January 2017

Ghana/Mali: Black Stars Lose Key Defender At Afcon

Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
Frank Acheampong of Ghana comes up behind Bakary Sako of Mali in a fight for the ball at the Afcon clash.

Ghana will have to overcome the loss of key defender Baba Rahman as they prepare to take on Mali in their second Group D match at the 2017 African Nations Cup finals in Gabon on Saturday (16h00 GMT).

Rahman, on loan to German Bundesliga side Schalke from Chelsea this season, has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a knee injury picked up in the Black Stars' unconvincing 1-0 victory over Uganda in their tournament opener.

That is a blow for coach Avram Grant and means he must reshuffle his defence, with either Anderlecht winger Frank Acheampong or Orlando Pirates defender Edwin Gyimah set to take over Rahman's position.

Acheampong was used as a substitute against Uganda, but is not naturally a defender and, against a better opponent in Mali, could be found wanting.

Grant was relieved with the win against Uganda, but felt his side's performance was not up to scratch.

But as they did two years ago in Equatorial Guinea, he feels the Black Stars will get better as the tournament goes on, starting with Mali.

"Every game we shall improve and get better, that's what we need at this tournament," he said. "When you are starting it's very important to take the points and improve in every game. I don't think there will be any easy game in this tournament.

Ghana went all the way to the final in 2015 before losing to Cote d'Ivoire. With Grant under pressure following a poor start to the World Cup qualifiers, a repeat performance is just about the minimum for him.

Mali played out a dour 0-0 draw with Egypt in their opener but coach Alain Giresse is quick to warn his side's detractors that they have as good as chance as group favourites Ghana and Egypt to go further in the competition.

"We aim to provide good performances in the upcoming matches against Ghana and Uganda in order to compete to qualify for the second round," he said.

"Everybody thinks that Ghana and Egypt are the toughest in the group and will easily qualify to the second round, everybody thinks Mali is already out of the competition.

"All options are available and we have a good chance to win our matches and compete with them."

Ghana and Mali have a rich recent history in the Nations Cup and this is the third time in four tournaments they are meeting in the first round.

Ghana won 2-0 in the pool phase of the 2012 competition but were beaten 2-0 by Mali in the third-place playoff. History repeated itself a year later in South Africa when Ghana won 1-0 in the pool phase, but Mali triumphed 3-1 in the bronze medal match.

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