An encounter far tighter than many predicted ended with the result that several assumed, as West African heavyweights, and last year’s semifinalists, Ghana sealed their return to this stage by eliminating Cape Verde.
Despite being outplayed for long periods by a Cape Verdean side that appeared to possess both more cohesion and more desire than their more-exalted opposition, Ghana managed to advance to the semifinals. It took a dubious penalty—where Carlitos appeared merely to nudge Asamoah Gyan off the ball in the box—and stunning performance by Black Stars keeper Fatwa Dauda to seal progression.
The Black Stars were toothless, and a late breakaway by Mubarak Wakaso—with the Sharks’ keeper up for a corner—gave the scoreline an undeserved gloss.
I wrote recently of the magnitude of Cape Verde’s achievements in this tournament to date, and this feels like an appropriate to once more highlight the feats of a nation that has a population of merely 500,000—that’s the same size as Bristol, for UK readers.
Had they just beaten Cameroon once, it would have been astonishing. To qualify ahead of them was unbelievable, and to escape the group stage in their maiden Cup of Nations is surely a feat that will rank up there with the continent’s finest.
Cape Verde can look back fondly and proudly on their recent experiences; the future looks bright for a squad high on both talent and organisation. As we close the chapter on their run, the archipelago’s advance and a series of fixtures that will live long in the memory—injustices and all—we turn the page to Ghana’s future, both short and long term.
I have long been excited about this current crop of Ghanaian talent, those like Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, gently entering their prime, and also the younger, exciting players such as Christian Atsu, Richmond Boakye and Solomon Asante.
Unfortunately, while they might be flourishing for their various club sides, these stars have failed to convince with the national side during the tournament.
Atsu has showed flashes of his supreme ability, whilst Asante has been a ray of light in his brief, late cameos, with some brave running and inventive wing play. However, beyond the opening 50 minutes against the Democratic Republic of Congo, the likes of Asamoah and Agyemang-Badu have failed to spark, and have been largely underwhelming.
Against Cape Verde they were often overrun and out-played, and the long-term view suggests that this crop are a way away from challenging for greater international recognition.
In the short term, the nature of the cup format and the unpredictability of this particular tournament means that almost anything could happen to the Black Stars.
In the semifinal they will come up against either Togo or Burkina Faso. I suspect that whilst Ghana are likely to be anxious heading into the match, aware of the high stakes and their recent disappointing performances, their opposition, whichever West African nation advances, will be buoyed by their advancement and will attack the Black Stars fearlessly.
It could be a long and arduous afternoon for Ghana, but I still back their quality to shine through eventually. A first Afcon title since 1982 is still well within the realms of possibility, but it may well require their stars to improve dramatically.