Thursday, February 5, 2015

Finally! Ivory Coast vs Ghana for the Cup of Nations

They have been the standard bearers for Africa when it comes to their players representing the top clubs in Europe. In recent World Cups, they have been the toughest of opponents for the more fancied nations. Both should have won the African Cup of Nations at least once in the past decade if not more. Finally, one of them will.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana have provided fans with some of the most charismatic and entertaining footballers of recent times. Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Yaya Toure and Asamoah Gyan are names that can roll of most fans tongues easily. The first two players are not associated with their national teams anymore. In there stead we now see Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Jordan Ayew and Wakaso Mubarak. It's clear for everyone to see, when it comes to consistency in producing excellent players, these two nations have made Africa proud.

Where they have failed, is in getting those individuals together to deliver tangible success on the international stage. In regards to the World Cup, both teams can claim they have received difficult draws often due to FIFA's bizarre seeding process. Though of course, Ghana were only a missed penalty away from reaching the semis in 2010, while Ivory Coast lost all sense of composure in the 2014 World Cup when they had qualification to the round of 16 all but secured. Yet, most would agree that neither team are in the top tier of World Cup contenders.

The international failure that is most galling for fans of both teams has been the inability to win a Cup of Nations. Since the 2006 edition of the tournament, Ghana and Ivory Coast have always gone into the tournament as favourites, yet they haven't won it.

Both teams were victims of Egypt's phenomenal record, when the Pharaohs won three consecutive tournaments. Losing the 2006 final on penalties in front of a partisan Egyptian crowd was understandable, but when they had the chance to avenge that defeat in 2008, Ivory Coast were spanked 4-1 in the semis against the champions. 2010 was a disaster, but surely 2012 was the time for the Ivorian golden generation to deliver. They made it to the final against the little-fancied Zambians only to inexplicably choke on penalties and lose again.

Ghana messed up in 2006 by losing to Zimbabwe of all teams. Then on home soil in 2008, they lost to Cameroon in a semi they dominated. The players recovered from that horrible defeat to make the final two years later in Luanda, only to come up against a well-drilled Egyptian side who simply had more nous and knew how to win the big matches. Like the Ivorians, Ghana choked against Zambia in the 2012 semis and followed it up with another seismic semifinal meltdown, this time on penalties against Burkina Faso.

Now the two ultimate underachievers of Africa come up against each other in the 2015 AFCON final. It's no surprise to see these two in the final. Perhaps its surprising that's it taken so long for them to meet in the final. Who will win? I can't wait to watch the final.