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Tournament set for intriguing final

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Piers Edwards | 17:50 UK time, Saturday, 30 January 2010

In 1982, a 17-year-old African prodigy by the name of Abedi 'Pele' Ayew lifted the Nations Cup for Ghana - coming on as a sub as the Black Stars beat hosts Libya on penalties.

That was the West Africans' fourth Nations Cup and even in his most pessimistic moments, Pele surely never imagined it would be their last - with the 'African Maradona' sitting out Ghana's loss in the 1992 final through suspension.

So Pele will burst with emotion should his sons Andre ('Dede') and Ibrahim follow his famous footsteps against two-time defending champions Egypt in Sunday's final in Luanda.

Dede has already ensured parental pride in heaps, becoming the first African to hold aloft Fifa's U20 World Cup trophy after the Ghanaians beat Brazil in October's final.

And although he has blown hot and cold here in Angola, the winger, who turned 20 last month, epitomises this Ghana side for what a story it would be if this band of youngsters could win this tournament. For few gave them a chance after injuries to regulars Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah, John Mensah and John Paintsil (not to mention Sulley Muntari's ousting for indiscipline).

In response, Serb coach Milovan Rajevac - ably supported by his one-armed translator - has turned to youth, blooding five members (Dede, Samuel Inkoom, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Opoku Agyemang and Dominic Adiyiah) of the U20 side.

And since no one fancied the Black Satellites to beat four-time champions Brazil in the World Cup, Sunday's clash of youth and experience will hold no fear for them.

The youngsters are also battling history for the Nations Cup winner in a World Cup year is seldom a side that's going on to face the world's best - with only Zaire/DR Congo (1974), Nigeria (1994) and Cameroon (2002) having managed that.

But this Ghanaian side, who play 4-4-2, are too young to care about records and also show composure way beyond their years, especially in central midfield where the baggy-shorted Kwadwo Asamoah, 21, has shone.

Standing in the Black Stars' way are surely the finest tournament team in the long history of the Nations Cup - Egypt.

The Pharaohs, who have won the competition six times (two more than their nearest rivals), are going for an unprecedented treble following their 2006 and 2008 successes.

It prompts a wry smile to remember that coach Hassan Shehata, the only coach to have won the Nations Cup back-to-back, was a largely-unpopular choice when he replaced Italian Marco Tardelli in 2004.

Like Rajevac, Shehata has also had injury problems (missing Mohamed Barakat, Mohamed Shawky and the inspirational Mohamed 'The Magician' Aboutreika) but overcome them in similarly-impressive style.

His team has been around for years and goalkeeper Essam El Hadary's celebrations, Wael Gomaa's distinct features, Hosny Abd Rabou's industry, Mohamed Zidan's buzz and Emad Moteab's goals will be familiar to those who only tune in to African football every two years.

The tournament's top scorer, supersub Mohamed Gedo, may be a new face, but captain Ahmed Hassan - going for a fourth title after first winning in 1998 - is unstoppable with the 34-year-old midfielder recently pledging to keep going for a few years yet.

Egypt striker Mohamed GedoMohamed Gedo has scored four goals so far in the tournament

Playing their regular 5-3-2, Egypt have yet to lose in Angola, are banging in the goals for fun (14 to Ghana's 4) and came through their heated semi-final against Algeria with ultimate ease after Rafik Halliche's controversial sending-off changed the game.

Some players said avenging November's intense World Cup play-off defeat wasn't on their minds, but that didn't seem too convincing when their drum-banging and flag-draped fans were saying precisely the opposite. Nonetheless, winning a third straight Nations Cup will not atone for missing the World Cup - as midfielder Ahmed Fathi freely admits.

He was one of the few Egyptians to talk after Thursday's semi, which witnessed heavily-clad riot police guarding the press conference room - perhaps mindful of the brief spat that had broken out in the press box earlier.

On the field, everything points to an Egyptian victory yet they face a side who've already beaten the odds - displaying impressive mental strength as they've overcome the absentees, the Cabinda situation and the less fraught matter of training on a pitch without any goals.

Ghana faced elimination against Burkina Faso in their final Group B game but won thanks to Dede Ayew's header before then knocking out hosts Angola and rivals Nigeria (to the delight of the BBC's African sports editor Farayi Mungazi, who had pledged to walk back from the stadium naked should the Nigerians have lifted the trophy).

All three of those games ended 1-0, so reviving memories of Europe's shock 2004 champions Greece who triumphed after winning all their knock-out ties by that scoreline - and since Rajevac's semi-enforced gameplan is all about sitting on a lead, whoever scores first on Sunday will be vital.

Should Egypt do so, it's hard to see the Ghanaians (with Richard Kingson, Hans Adu Sarpei, Asamoah Gyan and Matthew Amoah being the elders of the side) coming back - and not just because of their cautious approach.

It's also because, by my calculations, only six times in the Nations Cup's last 66 matches has a team that has conceded first has come back to win.

My head screams Egypt, but my heart's rooting for Ghana's youth. Unfortunately, this is how I bet which may be why my account's empty. The Black Stars to dethrone the Pharaohs.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Two pictures of Gedo? I know he's good, but...

    An excellent blog - and the head/heart thing rings totally true for me as a Ghanaian! I think a win for the Black Stars tomorrow will have to go down as one of the finest international wins in competitve history.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi,

    Apologies for that.

    Second picture will disappear shortly.

    Thanks.

    Ian W - BBC Sport.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi piers what do you make of togo's ban from the next few Afican cup of nations?

    i was quite suprised i mean surely the CAF should take in to account what happened to them

  • Comment number 4.

    Brazil are five time champions, not four.

  • Comment number 5.

    Only sad we dont get to see much of it on US TV.....

  • Comment number 6.

    You can always watch it online, Cliveeta

  • Comment number 7.

    Come on Ghana !!! Shame Essien is not playing for them but they should still have enough in the tank.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ben Thomas, Piers was referring to the UNDER 20 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, where Brazil have only won four times (they won the actual World Cup five times...)

    And yes, Piers, what do you think? Is it true that the [Togolese] players wanted to return after mourning but were stopped by the government? This seems to be CAF's position on the matter...

  • Comment number 9.

    Egyptian experience should pull them through and I think it will be at least 2-0. It's been great to see Ghana's young team play so well in this competition though especially without so many key players.

    I'm really disappointed to hear about the decision to ban Togo from the next two tournaments. It's just taking a really bad situation and making it worse.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi,

    Piers has just written a blog giving his views on the decision to ban Togo from the next two Cup of Nations tournaments.

    You can read it here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/piersedwards/2010/01/caf_decision_over_togo_makes_n.html

    Thanks

    Ian W - BBC Sport.

  • Comment number 11.

    Typical bias from the McNulties and Edwards of this world on this site. I find it rather amusing that you, Mr. Edwards, someone who, in theory, has not got anything to do with either nation, Egypt nor Ghana, can so explicitly state your desire to see the Black Stars triumph.

    Regarding the match, it is a big match for both sides- Egypt are bidding to make history with their third successive trophy as well as extending their record unbeaten run, whereas a youthful Ghana are hoping to end years of frustration! However, I see the Pharaohs' experience and attacking style seeing them through.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm cheering for Egypt with both my mind and heart! If Ghana had been playing against another team, it may have been a different story. But there's no way I can vote against Egypt's beautiful team!

  • Comment number 13.

    Also, I wanted to add that I am shocked at the biased nature of this report, where the author blatantly states the side he prefers. Where is the balanced reporting, BBC?

  • Comment number 14.

    Well, I surely am not the only one who has noticed the obvious since the emergence of the mighty black Africans? I mean it's every 2 years so why can't anyone else see it? Ghana are in the final BECAUSE of the players you named not being there not INSPITE of them! Look back at previous winners and tell me which winners had top players plying their trade in Europe's top leagues at time of winning? Not many if any. Now tell me which were good as a team? All of them! Eto'o is one of the few who plays as much for the team but players such as Drogba are a liability in the CAN.I fancied Ghana would reach the final because of the lack of star names, and the have. They are much more a team now and a team ALWAYS has a better chance than a batch of starry-eyed individuals.

    When Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal etc first arrived on the scene their raw talent and sheer power overwhelmed teams and scared the bejesus out of the Worlds best. In recent years they have been plucked too early to the top leagues and lost all that and become too modern day pro'. With the exception of Eto'o I can't think of any 'star' names top European club based who do well at the CAN. Coincidence? Without doubt, no. Zambia are the most hard working and progressive talent and the tourney was worse off on their departure to a truly ordinary Nigeria. The 16 year old wing back Mbola will become a VERY big player in the near future but they exemplified where, eg, Ivory Coast went wrong. Ivorians good on the ball but off it miles away and the current crop will never win it with some of their players 'superior' attitude. Best to do is remove the Captains armband from Drogba and drop anyone who is having a poor game, eg Drogba...again and NOT your best player on the night, Kalou.

    Anyway, Egypt are not a great side by any stretch, and this is their worst side of the last 3 but things DO seem to go their way, but they are a unit. Algeria are a team with limited talent but it just shows that working as a team on AND off the ball will reap rewards.

    I already cannot wait until 2012 to see Zambia again, I hope, in an increasingly harder-to-qualify tourney. Their team work deserved better and they have improved speedily in a few short years. I just hope they are the real, polished, formidible black African talent in 2 years and a number of thier players are not nursemaided by the big money clubs in Europe. That day will come but I so miss the Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal sides who terrorised and outplayed Argentina, Spain and France to name 3.

  • Comment number 15.

    ok, let me clarify some points for BBC readers.

    this is a BLOG. that means it is an OPINION COLUMN detailing ONE AUTHOR'S OPINION. it is not an ARTICLE, and thus, has no need for independent BBC reporting.

    to understand this further, maybe check katherine merry's thought provoking blog on justin gatlin's possible innocence or the hundreds of international football rugby blogs that express OPINIONS, not an authorititive account of who should be in respective teams.

    thankyou.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    This tournament hasn't been as much of a classic as some others have such as Tunisia winning in 2004 or the 2006 Cup with Guinea and DR Congo playing bit parts but it can't happen every time. It's still had it's stories. Egypt may prove themselves to be a class above all the others tomorrow. The article should be unbiased but people tend to cheer for the underdog too.

  • Comment number 18.

    Eh, he's hoping Ghana's youth will win, as will the vast majority of neutral observers. There is nothing anti-Egyptian in the blog, far from it.

  • Comment number 19.

    Well I'm afraid Colder you and most "neutral observers" will be disappointed come tomorrow. I am not Egyptian or related to any African country by any stretch of the imagination, I'm just your everyday Londoner but I have noticed some anti Egyptian vibes simply as they are not in the World Cup. African nations going to the world cup seem to be our media's love thing.

    But, through following this tournament closely and over a number of years now I have noticed that Egypt are indeed the best side in Africa. They might have issues in qualifying for the world's biggest tournament, but they were desperately unlucky this time round having not made it due to some bizarre change in FIFA rules regarding away goals. That led to a one-off playoff which of course is anyone's game, and it was Algeria's day that day.

    Back to tomorrow, Egypt will be patient but purposeful. They will outpass what is a solid yet uninventive Ghana side to death, and will eventually get their break as they did in the semi final. Ghana's gameplan has bee to score early from set pieces and sit on it. This will not work against an Egypt side strong in every department.

  • Comment number 20.

    Double enjoyment. Ghana and arsenal will win against Egypt and Man U respectively. Pier U are right, it was only luck that egypt escaped from Cameroun. No luck against Ghana, Go Black stars go

  • Comment number 21.

    I have been following African football for so many years and in my humble opinion, this "Golden Generation" of Egypt is by far the best and most attractive representation of Africa. They dominated all African big names such as Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria. Egypt's Coach Shehata has revolutionized African football through his genius strategy of assembling a cohesive, disciplined and talented squad all of whom play in their country (except for one or two). One can never forget their impressive performance last summer in the FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa against Brazil 4-3, and beating Italy, the champion of the world 1-0. You can't ignore that Egypt has won the first 2 African Cups, the last 2 African Cups and 2 more in between. Their performance in Angola has been nothing but magic as they beat all African represenatives to the upcoming world cup (Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria).
    I watched them crush Algeria on Thursday 4-0 with style, focus, determination and high class. We South Americans respect and value artistic football and as far as we see, Egypt is the only team in Africa that consistently gives us enjoyment and flair of beautiful football. Ghana has a good team of young players who must be commended for reaching the final match, but the Pharos of Egypt are simply unstoppable.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hmmm, Quiet an interesting article. The thing is, I am one of those people who think that if CAF rules do not have the dominating team qualify to the world cup, then something IS wrong. You know why I like Egypt? Because it's the most powerful team in Africa. Know why it is? because it's a team that plays as a TEAM, which is everything about football. The fourth goal that Gedo scored was preceded by a build up of 26 passes! TWENTY SIX people! If you're not going to give them credit for dominating Africa for six years, then you need to change your criteria of judgment.
    I don't mind expressing opinions in blogs...but I would sure like to see a blog coming up giving credit to the dominating Pharaohs...

    I love this team and I hope our team learns that football is all about team work, and not shiny European names.

    As for Togo's ban...it's very painful and it's like sending a message that lives and human feelings are less important than a football tournament.

  • Comment number 23.

    Dear friend,
    Lovely writings of African football matches and coverages for us.
    How to see this games final?
    Shall i watch from BBC sports TV channels or only by few clippings.
    I had an opportunity to have friendship with Ghana friend.But, my house members had not encouraged to go further to the above friendship.
    Egypt,Ghana had played very well to this tournaments.
    Thanks for wide coverages of this interesting football matches from world well known BBC channels.
    Best wishes.,

  • Comment number 24.

    I pray n wish ghana wins, the boys has made me proud by eliminatin nigeria.

  • Comment number 25.

    OK, in good sportsmanship, Egypt has dominated the Cup of Nations but there is also a whole World Cup campaign where they simply did not qualify, those are internationals as well. Too much banter. I did not want to make my world cup predictions until I saw the CAN and for those teams going to the World Cup, look at the hindsight they are going to be taking. Nigeria, everyone almost agrees, they need a major overhaul, others obviously need some fine tuning as well.

  • Comment number 26.

    In my opinion, the main reason why Ghana and Egypt excelled is because unlike the rest (perhaps with the exception of Zambia), these two countries FA were not politically interefered with by their state governments and so became free to select coaches most suitable for their climes. As a Quid-pro-quo, the coaches in turn were given freedom in selecting the best players that can read and dutifully implement their coaching programmes. All others followed the perennial ritual of rushing for big names in coaches and pro-players at the zero hour, to execute their CAN and World Cup campaigns. Therefore with no structured planning, no standards and no back-up arrangements, they had no option than to play defensive football, thereby falling like a pack of cards at the heat of battle, despite an array of Euro-pros.
    I hope they learn a lesson or two in this tournament and put a stop to this erratic approach in their sports management. The governments of these countries should eschiew corruption,partisanship and nepotism in their FA appointments and instead instill and imbibe partriotism ala Ghana and Egypt. That way we a are sure to have a more competitive tournament and a memorable final come 2012, intead of a boring, one-sided affair like we have just witnessed.

  • Comment number 27.

    Now, the battle lineis drawn. Ghana will dethrone Egypt and many would be astonished the type of football Ghana plays. Ghana is going to play exquisite soccer today! 3:0 to Ghana! lol. Up Ghana!

  • Comment number 28.

    I quite frankly do not care who is in the final. I will urge others to boycott this final in solidarity with the Togolese. Any tournament sanctioned by CAF does not need to be patronized by us until this decision has been rescinded.

  • Comment number 29.

    The players involved in the final should make a brief demonstration at the mistreatment of fellow professionals by a CAF PR disaster that occurred over the last few days. My sympathy goes out to the footballers who died, their families, African Football.

  • Comment number 30.

    Edwards :Taking message off made me very happy because now i know you read it you are a fool.......

  • Comment number 31.

    Ghana lost already in this tournament and will finish up with another loss. The game is a foregone conclusion.

  • Comment number 32.

    Being an Egyptian and don't really understand the anti Egypt sentiment we receive in every tournament we play in. Clearly we deserve credit for being not just a) the current double champions? b) Continually beating the "favourites" like Cameroon Ivory Coast, Nigeria etc etc 3) for playing by far the best brand of football in Africa? It really confuses me that piers and other journalist always seem to overlook our massive achievements. If this was England/Italy/France/Spain in the European championships would everyone be rooting for anyone but the best team? There is this notion that we don't really deserve to do so well and as others have mentioned because we were unlucky not to qualify for the world cup it’s not even worth looking at us. And to answer a few questions on why we don't see so many Egyptians in the European leagues as other African nations. It’s because the Egyptian premier league is by far and away the strongest and most developed in Africa. Good facilities, big stadiums, huge support and the players are well played and treated like gods. Why do they need to leave there home land? If we were in the world cup journo would be singing our praises as the team with the least foreign based players etc.

    Either way I find it sad that we have a reputation that for some reason people want us to fail and give no credit for but we will prove today that we are by far the best team in Africa, break yet another record and maybe finally get some credit. Lets just hope that the players that replace the older members of our team can continue on the same mould, which as shown by Gedo, I think they will.

    oh and thanks for the posts making the same point but from non egyptian bloggers. thanks for the support

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'd like to see the rosters for the professional teams these Egyptians play for. Why?? Well, we know, like the old Bayern Munich West German teams, Augenthaler, Voeller, at times, a lot of those guys played for the same team. We know Egypt has an excellent league and I believe I've heard that said about Al Ahly (sp.?) having players on the Egyptian National team, so maybe we can elevate this conversation and one of the kind Egyptians here can fill us in on this information.

    Also, to you of Egypt, I don't think you should think people were talking down your team of course, not me, but remember, Egypt has been in the limelight for the past 4 years and deservedly so. One could say all this blog did was talk some about the other teams. Mido has been such a crowd pleaser really. I don't quite understand why some players from Egypt like Zaki (?) and to a lesser extent Mido, he did claim injury after all, have gone missing at times for a period of days and not returned to their professional teams in a prompt manner? This is not unique with Egyptians as we saw the same happen to Jo from Brazil.

 

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