Ghana vs Ivory Coast African Cup of Nations preview: Elephants braced for Black Stars

Both sides hoping to end run of near-misses

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The Independent Football

A decades-long drought for an Africa Cup of Nations title is about to come to an end. And another is going to be extended at the same time.

Ivory Coast will face Ghana tonight at Bata Stadium in the final, and both teams are looking to win another continental title after years of near-misses.

“It’s a final with two very good teams, two very strong countries in Africa since a long time,” the Ivory Coast coach Hervé Renard said. “We know that it won’t be easy.”

The Ivorians came into the tournament as one of the big favourites because of their star-studded line-up, which includes Yaya Touré, Wilfried Bony and Gervinho. But they are without Didier Drogba, who has retired from international football.

With Drogba, the team reached the final in 2006 and 2012, losing both times in a penalty shoot-out. Their only victory came in 1992, when they beat Ghana 11-10 on penalties.

“This is our past,” Ivory Coast defender Wilfried Kanon said. “Now the present is tomorrow, and we don’t want to let the chance pass.”

Four-time champion Ghana have also been one of the best teams on the continent in recent years, but last won the African Cup in 1982. The more recent  set of players reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and the African Cup final a few months later.

Now in their record ninth final, one more than seven-time champions Egypt, the Black Stars have their own squad of stars, including Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu and Andre Ayew.

Gyan, who was injured last week in the quarter-final win over Guinea and missed the next game against Equatorial Guinea, may not yet be healthy enough for tonight’s match. But Ayew is ready.

“I’m trying to raise my game higher and  higher every time,” Ayew said yesterday. “What is important is tomorrow.”

The final will be played in Bata, the biggest city in Equatorial Guinea. Ghana played their previous match against the host nation in Malabo, the capital city located on an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

That match descended into chaos after Ghana took the lead, and ended up being delayed for about 40 minutes late in the second half after the Ghanaian fans sought safety on the field after being pelted with missiles by home supporters.

Ghana are coached by Avram Grant (below), the Israeli who led Chelsea to the 2008 Champions League final. He took over the Ghana  job in December, giving him very little time to prepare for the tournament.

On the other side, Renard may have an advantage from a coaching perspective because he worked as an assistant with Ghana about eight years ago. But the Frenchman was not so sure his past knowledge would help in the final.

“You are not sure to win because you know some players,” Renard said. “But if you don’t know Asamoah Gyan has a very good header, you are in trouble. If you don’t know the quality of Andre Ayew before the game, you are also in trouble.”