Grant’s Ghana gi­ants face tough test against Ea­gles

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

AVRAM GRANT slouched on his chair like a pen­sioner on an oxy­gen mask as he watched Ghana over­come Uganda’s sec­ond half suf­fo­ca­tion to start their Africa Cup of Na­tions (Afcon) cam­paign with a win.

It wasn’t a pleas­ing sight but it was a bet­ter start to this cam­paign than in the last edi­tion where the Black Stars lost to Sene­gal in their open­ing match.

De­spite that bad start in Equa­to­rial Guinea two years ago, Ghana went all the way to the fi­nal be­fore los­ing to Ivory Coast on penal­ties.

That de­feat is among a hand­ful that the Is­raeli coach has tasted since he took charge of Ghana three years ago. Grant has formed a strong bond with the Ghana­ian play­ers, which could be the cat­a­lyst to the Black Stars win­ning their first Afcon ti­tle since 1982.

“He (Grant) has had a big in­flu­ence on the team,” Ghana’s mid­fielder An­dre Ayew said. “As soon as he ar­rived, we went to the fi­nal of the tour­na­ment. Since then we have lost only one game (against Egypt).

“We are work­ing hard and we are play­ing well. He has a lot of in­flu­ence on us and hope­fully we are go­ing to con­tinue like this, but play our foot­ball for 90 min­utes and not only for 45 min­utes like we did against Uganda.”

Mali, un­like Uganda, will of­fer Ghana a sterner test when they meet in Port-Gen­til to­mor­row at 5pm. These two na­tions play a sim­i­lar brand of ex­pan­sive foot­ball. But they could be forced to be more prag­matic on a pitch that makes con­trol­ling the ball a bit dif­fi­cult.

Ghana will do that without Baba Ab­dul-Rah­man who picked up a knee in­jury against the Cranes. He was flown to Ger­many yes­ter­day for fur­ther as­sess­ment by his club Schalke after Ghana’s med­i­cal team looked at him on Wed­nes­day.

The Black Stars med­i­cal team said the de­fender had ex­pe­ri­enced “a rup­ture of the menis­cus and a par­tic­u­lar tear of the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment with fluid col­lec­tion in the left knee”.

“In this tour­na­ment it’s im­por­tant to col­lect points early,” Grant said. “At this stage the points are more im­por­tant than how you play be­cause you will grad­u­ally im­prove as the tour­na­ment pro­gresses.

“Some of the play­ers haven’t been play­ing that much in their leagues. They didn’t come in the best phys­i­cal shape. They worked hard in the train­ing camp (in the United Arab Emi­rates).”

While the Black Stars are look­ing to end a 35-year wait to be African cham­pi­ons, Mali are search­ing for their maiden con­ti­nen­tal ti­tle. Their pre­vi­ous stars such as Fred­eric Kanoute and Sey­dou Keita couldn’t con­quer Africa be­fore they re­tired. Samba Sow is con­fi­dent this gen­er­a­tion of the Ea­gles can do what their pre­de­ces­sors couldn’t. The Ea­gles started their cam­paign with a goal­less draw against Egypt.

“We know that Ghana are a big team in Africa,” Sow said. “We are here to win. We need to get three points. We have to be­lieve that we can make it out of this tough group. We don’t look too much at who we are grouped with but we look at what we need to do. It is dif­fi­cult to win this tour­na­ment. In the past years we have had some good play­ers like Keita and Kanoute, they couldn’t win this tro­phy. But we are a new gen­er­a­tion with good young play­ers. We want to make his­tory.” Njab­ulo Ngidi is in Gabon cour­tesy of Su­per­Sport

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