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Johannesburg – Ghana should be favoured to bag the African Nations Championship (Chan) at a second try on Saturday when they take on Libya, who’ve defied the odds to be surprise finalists of the continent’s second tier tournament.
The Black Stars lost out to DR Congo in the inaugural Chan in 2009, but their semi-final win over rivals Nigeria this year is sure to pump them up ahead of Saturday’s final showdown at Cape Town Stadium (8.30pm).
While they have been indisputably one of the best sides on the continent in recent history, and have had an impressive achievement list which includes qualifying for three World Cups in succession and reaching at least as many Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals, Ghana are without a major title since 1982. Saturday, then, presents them with a perfect chance to end years of wait, albeit the Chan may not be nearly as glamorous as the World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations.
As his players broke into song inside the Free State Stadium following the penalty shoot-out win over Nigeria, Ghana coach Maxwell Konadu was full of praise for his men, saying they had been given little chance of getting this far, especially as they had bombed out in the first round in the last edition of Chan in 2011.
“Nobody gave us a chance. Back home, people said we won’t make it with this team, but here we are in the final,” Konadu said. “I’m proud of my boys, because to beat Nigeria and reach the final takes some strength. The rivalry between the countries is immense.”
Ghana were hugely indebted to goalkeeper Stephen Adams, who, in spite of carrying a knock, produced a stupendous save to foil Nigeria right at the death, before he stopped the Super Eagles’ second penalty and gave his team a chance of establishing a big lead.
The Black Stars in the end triumphed 4-1, all their kickers converting on the back of impressive support from Bloemfontein Celtic fans.
“They have been great since we got here,” Konadu said of Celtic’s Siwelele band. “From the very first day they showed us love, and that’s very positive. We couldn’t have done it without their support.”
It’s now off to Cape Town for Ghana, who had played all their games in Bloemfontein. What will fill them with hope is that their opponents, Libya, are also unfamiliar with the Mother City, having been initially based in Bloemfontein but travelled to Polokwane for their quarter-final against Gabon.
The Libyans were awful in their 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Zimbabwe, who really had themselves to blame for losing after squandering numerous chances. Even Javier Clemente, the Libya coach, conceded his men were fortunate finalists: “I am very happy that we have reached that final but l have to congratulate Zimbabwe. They were the better team. We remained believing we could get something out of the match and as often is the case with football we managed to win the penalty shoot-out,” Clemente said.
Zimbabwe will take on Nigeria in a third-place play-off at the same venue (5pm), but neither Ian Gorowa nor Stephen Keshi was disheartened after their sides showed grit to reach the last four.
“The only thing disappointing was the way we lost,” said Zimbabwe’s Gorowa. “We dominated possession and had a few clear cut chances but credit goes to Libya for slowing down the game to their advantage.”
Keshi hailed Ghana ’keeper Adams for his heroics, and could not find fault with his own charges. “They had a stunning goalkeeper. He did a wonderful job and there’s little we could do about it,” said Keshi.
He added some of the players in Nigeria’s Chan squad would be rewarded with promotion into the senior team, and could be headed to the World Cup in Brazil.
“These boys have been brilliant. I spent just six weeks with them – I wish that was six months. What they did after we lost the first game to Mali was great. They’ve shown courage, and I have some names in my pocket of those I will be taking to Brazil. I won’t tell you yet, though, who they are.”