In Mongomo this evening, Ghana’s Black Stars must be better off winning their last match in Group C against South Africa’s Bafana Bafana to qualify for the quarter-finals of the ongoing AFCON in Equatorial Guinea.
Any slip of a draw could be risky considering that both Senegal and Algeria who meet in the other match of the group also have an equal chance of qualifying from a draw or a win respectively.
After losing their opening game against Senegal, the Stars revived their campaign with a win against Algeria in their second game, and with the head-to-head they now find themselves second to Senegal on the log and are hoping to consolidate that position or possibly move to the top by the time the final matches are over this evening.
The Stars are mindful of the qualification, given that a win for Algeria against Senegal will alter the standings, pushing the Stars to third place and contending the head-to-head with the Teranga Lions, a situation that will go against the Stars.
With this at the back of their minds, the Stars are plotting for a win, admitting it will be another difficult battle, but one they are again ready to die for, and willing to give their all.
“We don’t want to be taken unawares like what happened to Gabon in Group A. Almost everyone thought Gabon could qualify with a draw, but they ended up losing, and now they are out, even though they beat the 2013 finalists, Burkina Faso,”George Afriyie, the chairman of the Stars management committee, told the Daily Graphic.
“We do not really care if we finish on top or second. Our priority is to qualify first, and we can only be sure of that with a win. Our qualification should be convincing, not one that leaves people feeling that we are lucky, draw makes it tight, a win makes it easy, and so we certainly will work hard for a win,” Mr Afriyie said.
Ahead of this final match, Coach Avram Grant is demanding the same focus and concentration, as well as the performance his charges put up against the Algerians, which earned them the three points even though they got it late.
The recovery of captain Asamoah Gyan, the availability of all the players, as well as the desire to stay on in this competition, make the plotting a bit easier, though the battle will not.
The Stars’ back four may not change, given that debutant, Daniel Amartey, has worked hard to deserve a place, and Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah and Baba Abdul Rahman have kept the back tight. Emmanuel Agyeman-Badu is likely to start, and so will the captain and his assistant, Asamoah Gyan and Andre Dede Ayew.
Though Afriyie Acquah was impressive when he started against Algeria, it will be interesting to see what the likes of Frank Acheampong and Mahatma Otoo also have to offer should they be in the starting 11.
That may be a wish, but the decision rests with Grant who has kept his line up to his chest, ready to release it only when he has to.
The South Africans, despite being a delight to watch, do not have the results to show for it. Being last on the log with just a point, and with their feet virtually out of the competition, may want to bow out with some pride.
In AFCON history, the records favour the Bafana Bafana as they have won two of the three meetings with the third ending in a draw. That, does not matter much to both sides as each plots a strategy to win this fight.
Yesterday, all the Bafana Bafana players also had the green light from the medical team, presenting under pressure Coach, Ephraim Shakes Mashaba, with varied options.
They are impressive in defence, midfield and even on the flanks, but yet to score the full marks in attack even though they have what it takes to trouble any defence, which is why the Stars must be extra alert this evening.