We’re down to the final four in the 2008 African Cup of Nations, and there aren’t any real surprises as to who the last four standing are.
Ghana’s got one more hurdle to climb to get to the final, but it’s a pretty big one, as they have to go up against a prolific Cameroon side. In the other semifinal, we’ve got a rematch of the 2006 final, as the Ivory Coast and Egypt get re-acquainted with one another, and there certainly won’t be any love lost there.
Ghana vs. Cameroon
After sneaking by Nigeria in the quarterfinals, only two wins separate the hosts from their fifth African Cup of Nations title, and first since 1982. But, Cameroon are also on the cusp of going for their fifth title as well, which would be their first since 2002.
Ghana will be going into their semifinal with the joint highest-scoring side in the competition without their captain and best defender, John Mensah, and coach Claude Le Roy will be praying (just not to Allah) that his absence won’t spell disaster against Cameroon, who have rolled off three straight wins after opening the tournament with a loss to Egypt.
Both teams needed late heroics to book their semifinal meeting. Junior Agogo’s 83rd minute winner sent Ghana through, while Stephane Mbia’s goal in the second minute of extra time was the winner for Cameroon against Tunisia.
With Mensah out, Michael Essien might be shifted back to the center of defense, where he and his back line mates would have to deal with the competition’s top-scorer, Samuel Eto’o, who didn’t get on the score sheet on Monday after netting five times in three group games.
Considering that Ghana haven’t been lighting up the net at the rate Cameroon have, Mensah certainly picked a bad time to get see red, though his team persevered without him against Nigeria, and won’t buckle against Cameroon. However, given how quickly Cameroon can put you into a deep hole (just ask Tunisia, Sudan, and Zambia), their defense is going to have to get the job done, even without Mensah.
Just like the Black Stars can’t afford to get behind like they did against Nigeria, Cameroon can’t let up if they get ahead early as they did against Tunisia, when they went up 2-0 inside a half hour only to have to be saved by Mbia in extra time.
Even with Mensah relegated to being a spectator, he’ll be able to exhale at full time, as Ghana should get the job done once again and book their place in the final.
Ivory Coast vs. Egypt
Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast will be looking to erase some unpleasant memories when they take on Egypt in a rematch of the 2006 African Cup of Nations final.
In that match, Egypt, who hosted the tournament, prevailed 4-2 in a penalty shootout, with Drogba missing a glorious chance in the final 15 minutes of normal time, and then the Chelsea star went up first in the shootout and saw his penalty saved by Essam El-Hadary.
So, if Drogba can beat El-Hadary on the way to a victory, it will no doubt be some sweet revenge for the Ivorians, especially with a berth in the final at stake.
While Egypt edged a pesky Angola side 2-1, the Ivory Coast overpowered Guinea, scoring four goals in the final 20 minutes to pick up a 5-0 win that was harder to come by than the score indicates.
It could be said that these two sides have been the most impressive of the competition thus far, so for them to meet in the semifinals might not be doing this matchup justice.
Both sides haven’t had any problems scoring goals, as the Ivory Coast have 13 through four games, tied with Cameroon for the most in the competition, and Egypt have found the net 10 times in their four ties thus far.
For the Ivory Coast, the Chelsea duo of Drogba and Salomon Kalou (both with three goals) have led the way for their relentless attack, while Egyptian midfielder Hosny Abd Rabou is second in the scoring charts with four goals, three from the penalty spot.
While both sides have been finding the net easily, both have defended well also, with the Egyptians allowing four goals in four matches (two of them coming in the opener against Cameroon), and the Ivorians allowing a solitary strike (in the waning moments of a 4-1 victory against Benin).
So, while it’d be nice to hope for a 4-3 goalfest, we could end up seeing a dogfight for 120 minutes, and this one come down to penalties just like in the 2006 final.
The winners will have a couple of days to prepare before their showdown in the final on Sunday in Accra, while the two losers will have to put their defeat behind them very quickly, as the third-place match is on Saturday.
Who’ll book their places in the final? We’ll find out in a few hours.