African Cup of Nations – Ghana expects against Guinea Sun, 20 Jan 10:54:00 2008
Ghana, with the hopes of the home nation resting on their shoulders, will be strong favourites to get their record equalling fifth-title bid off to the best possible start against Guinea.
“Go Ghana” implore billboards lining the streets of Accra and feverish disc jockeys on the nation’s airwaves ahead of Sunday’s opening African Nations Cup match at the city’s Ohene Djan Stadium.
Hosts have a good record in this biennial competition, Ghana themselves winning two titles on home turf, with Egypt and Tunisia living up to local expectations in 2006 and 2004.
For Tunisia coach Roger Lemerre the Black Stars have a big shot at capturing the continent’s 2008 crown.
“Hosts Ghana, title holders Egypt, and runners-up of the previous competition Cote d’Ivoire are my nominees to win the cup,” said the former France boss.
“I believe those teams are the best in Africa at the moment.”
But Lemerre’s French compatriot, Ghana manager Claude Le Roy, knows only too well Ghana have carried the favourite’s tag before and failed to live up to expectations, the last time they carried off the title was 26 years ago in Libya.
“With Stephen missing we need the support of our fans more than ever,” insisted Le Roy, whose team have just returned from a training camp in Dubai.
Given the almost tangible excitement in the Ghana capital in the build-up to Sunday’s showdown he shouldn’t be disappointed on that front.
Guinea, under another French manager Robert Nouzaret, are hoping to play the part of party popper having been transformed from strugglers to topping their qualifying table.
Guinea, quarter-finalists in both 2006 and 2004, may not have an Essien in their midst but Nouzaret still has some serious talent at his disposal, not least St Etienne midfielder Pascal Feindouno.
This is the two countries’ 17th meeting, the last one coming at the 2004 Cup in Tunisia.
On that occasion the Sylie Elephants gave the Black Stars a run for their money, holding them until a last-minute strike.
The Ghana class of 2008 will be anxious for a less bumpy time of it on Sunday.
And For Essien the task in front of him and his teammates is simple.
“We are here to play our hearts out for our people,” he said this week.