Story: Kwame Asare Boadu, Kumasi
THE stakes are is very high, the challenge so huge, and it could be one hell of a match for two of Africa’s finest sides, Egypt and Cote d’Ivoire, as they battle for a place in the grand finale of the 26th Africa Cup of Nations at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi tonight.
There has been little talk about the match from both camps. Perhaps this is premised on the respect the combatants have for each other. They would thus prefer to strategise to outdo each other to making noise.
In what appears a re-stage of the final of the 25th Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in 2006 when the Pharaohs triumphed via penalties, this match, which has attracted the keen attention of connoisseurs of the game, presents an opportunity for both sides to underscore their championship stuff.
It is a battle football fans, and even the uninitiated, in Kumasi had long relished, but there are fears that the Black Stars-Indomitable Lions match at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium may affect attendance in Kumasi.
The Accra match precedes the Kumasi game and many fear that no matter the outcome, it will have a negative impact on the Kumasi game.
Notwithstanding the magnitude of the situation, a gruelling encounter is expected that will bring the best out of the two teams.
All is clear that tradition will not be broken with regard to the balance of support. Egypt, who have stayed in Kumasi all this while, will definitely get the chunk of the support base in Kumasi, but the question remains whether they can capitalise on it to upstage the Ivorians.
Cote d’Ivoire have never hidden their determination to wrest the ultimate. Stupendous group and quarter-final performances that have seen them with an astonishing haul of 13 goals, with just one against, speak volumes of the level of maturity that the Elephants have developed.
Clearly, it is enough to send strong signals about their resolve to go past all opposition, and Egypt better watch out.
Arguably, the Ivorians possess the most fearsome arsenal in the tournament and not even injury to gritty defender Kolo Toure just after one match has had any telling effect on the team as they continue to protect their area and score freely.
Although Cote d’Ivoire have been firing freely, a match against the five-time African champions cannot be seen as any other match. Under the tutelage of Hassan Shehata, the Pharaohs have played a consistent attacking game, built mostly from the flanks. The coach may stick to this game plan to cut out the Elephants backline.
Indeed, the Pharaohs proved from day one that they had the capacity to defend the cup. They play the type of game that is attack-conscious and forwards Hosny Abdrabou and Amr Zaki are always dangerous in the area.
The Ivorian defence of Emmanuel Eboue, Marc Zoro, Arthur Boka and Abdoulaye Meite could this time face a rather difficult task containing the slippery Egyptians.
On the opposite side of defence, Egypt will be in the most difficult situation as the Ivorian attackers accelerate.
Shady Mohammed, Mohammed Hany, Ahmed Fathy Ibrahim and Ibrahim Emad will have to dig deep into their repertoire of strength and resilience to contain the marauding Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone, Abdul Keita and Salomon Kalou.
Drogba’s extraordinary character and leadership quality as a captain have been inspirational for the team that looks so hungry for success and when he combines the three key elements of power, pace and superb finishing skills, it could be another fine night for his team.