Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl) Thu 7 February 2008
African Cup of Nations: Round-up #4
We're entering the final straight in the African Cup of Nations 2008, and by the end of today we'll know who's going to be playing in Sunday's final, but before all of that, let's recap on the quarter-finals that took place on Sunday and Monday.
Ghana v Nigeria The hosts entered the knock-out phase on the crest of a wave having finished top of Group A in Round 1 with a maximum nine points in the bag. They faced a Nigeria side that left it very late to secure their place and were curiously only a shadow of the reputation that preceded them.
The meeting between the two turned out to be rather scrappy and somewhat physical, but Ghana had the upper hand for most of the first half and looked slightly more threatening than their opponents. It was a little surprising, then, when Nigeria grabbed the lead just after the half-hour mark as Yakubu converted a penalty, but their lead was to last little more than 10 minutes.
On the stroke of half time, Chelsea's Michael Essien headed in an equaliser via the woodwork and Ghana were back on level terms for the second 45 minutes. Little were they to know they'd have to endure some pressure after the break as Nigeria's Uche almost scored with a lob from long distance and Ghana's captain John Mensah got himself sent off for bringing down Osaze Odemwingie when he had a clear run on goal.
Despite having a numerical advantage, Nigeria couldn't make it pay whereas Ghana bided their time and reorganised to greater effect. Their reward came seven minutes from the end when Muntari crossed the ball to Nottingham Forest's Junior Agogo who couldn't miss from four yards out. With no reply in the time remaining, Ghana ran out 2-1 winners and the crowd, as they say, went wild. The home side had made it to the semi-finals and from there, you feel, anything could happen.
Ivory Coast v Guinea Chances are, if you had to plump for one team to win this match, you'd have gone for Didier Drogba's. The Elephants of the Ivory Coast had been clinical in their first round campaign, bulldozing their way through Nigeria, Mali and Benin, scoring eight goals and conceding just one. Yet in Guinea their opponents were the stereotypical dark horses that could give Drogba's side a run for their money, as Morocco found out to their cost.
Sadly for Guinea, they were missing suspended captain Pascal Feindouno and injured defender Bobo Balde, thereby leaving a side that was lacking age and experience against such dominant opponents. For all that, though, they managed to restrict Ivory Coast to just one goal in the first seventy minutes, scored by Keita shortly before the half-hour mark.
Guinea held the ship steady and even had a couple of chances to score themselves in the ensuing period, but Drogba made the breakthrough well into the second half with a well-taken goal following a one-two with Boka. That goal opened the floodgates as the increasing nervousness of the Ivory Coast team dissipated instantly. Three minutes later, Kalou rounded the keeper to make it 3-0 and in the 81st minute completed a great team goal by converting a cross to score his team's fourth. Substitute Kone ended the rout with a great fifth from long distance with four minutes remaining and that was the end of Guinea's involvement in this competition.
They'd fought well, if without the spark needed to at least get a goal, but frankly most teams would have struggled to deal with the Ivory Coast on the basis of their second half form. Whoever the winner would be of the quarter-final between Egypt and Angola would no doubt be more than well aware of that.
Egypt v Angola Here were two sides that have played some of the best football in this tournament so far, and in Manucho, Angola had one of the most exciting prospects for the future who could swing the game for them.
The game started with both teams reluctant to commit too much to attacking play with few exchanges of note, but that all changed when Macanga handled the ball in the penalty area following a free kick, leading Abd Rabou to score his fourth goal of the tournament from the spot.
It prompted another moment of brilliance from Manucho. As we've already mentioned, he's already been snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson, and it isn't difficult to see why on the basis of the 25-yard belter he unleashed four minutes after the penalty. Angola were back on level terms at 1-1 and deservedly so.
Manucho's side were now on a roll and looking the more dangerous side but they shot themselves in the foot with a moment of absent-mindedness that came from a harmless cross in the 38th minute. The ball bypassed everybody, the Angolan defence failed to clear it but it finally fell to oncoming Zaki who chested the ball in to give Egypt a 2-1 lead.
Into the second half, both teams approached the game with renewed vigour and Manucho could have wrapped the game up for Angola if he'd made the most of a few decent chances that came his way. As the game progressed ever onwards, both teams looked evenly matched as the two keepers pulled off excellent saves, but Egypt's defence remained strong to the end.
Angola were left frustrated not to have found the equaliser they badly needed as reigning champions Egypt won the match 2-1. It was a shame that either of these two teams had to face elimination from the tournament, but for fans of the Premier League, there was at least the tantalising prospect of seeing more of Manucho in the future long after this contest had finished.
Tunisia v Cameroon This match became the first to go to extra time in the 2008 African Cup of Nations as Cameroon struggled to finish off a Tunisian side that wouldn't accept defeat easily.
Stephane Mbia headed the Indomitable Lions in front with 19 minutes on the clock and soon after Chelsea's Geremi made it two with a brilliantly taken free kick from nearly thirty yards out. But the Tunisians would not be outdone as Chaouki Ben Saada scored with a similar effort after 35 minutes.
The second half saw the close-fought battle continue with Tunisia having the best of the chances, and this led inevitability to an equaliser for the Carthage Eagles nine minutes from time when Yassine Chikhaoui struck the ball firmly into the back of the net from close range.
Within two minutes of the restart, Cameroon found themselves back in front. A long throw-in from Geremi found its way to Mbia who turned and shot on the edge of the area to get his second of the game. As the remainder of the game continued, both teams looked tired and things got scrappy with a number of fouls punctuating the play. It worked against the plucky Tunisians and as full time arrived, the equaliser they strived for remained out of reach.
So Cameroon finished the game 3-2 winners and they were through to a semi-final against the hosts. If nothing else, it taught them a lesson that when you have the game by the scruff of the neck, you need to get the job done right through to the end, but maybe it'll be Ghana that suffer by that lesson learned. Tonight we'll see if that's the case as the semis get underway…
Semi Finals Ghana v Cameroon (5pm GMT) Ivory Coast v Egypt (8.30pm GMT)