FRANCEVILLE, Gabon, Feb 1 – Ghana, the nearly men of African football in recent years, go into a sixth consecutive semi-final at the Cup of Nations when they face Cameroon in Franceville on Thursday.
The Black Stars have not won the trophy since 1982, instead gaining a reputation for coming up just short all too often over the last decade.
Avram Grant’s side lost on penalties to the Ivory Coast in the final two years ago, while their current run of near misses began with a 1-0 defeat to Cameroon at home in Accra in 2008.
But in Gabon they have seemed like a side on a mission to end their long title drought and a 2-1 quarter-final win over DR Congo in Oyem on Sunday, secured thanks to a goal each from the Ayew brothers, took them through to the last four.
There a Cameroon side dismissed by most observers prior to the tournament awaits.
“In the group stage they played well and against Senegal they were very impressive, so the semi-final is going to be tough,” Grant told Ghanaian media.
The Israeli will be eager to have skipper Asamoah Gyan — a survivor of the 2008 squad — back fit from the adductor injury suffered in their last group game against Egypt and that kept him out of the DR Congo win.
Meanwhile, Razak Brimah will hope to keep his place in goal despite being fined $2,500 by the Ghanaian FA after upsetting supporters with an outburst on Facebook.
Razak said he was responding to insults directed at his mother but nevertheless issued an official apology.
“I accept that as an ambassador for my country Ghana and a role model for many across the globe, I should not have reacted this way,” said the 29-year-old.
– Exceeding expectations –
The sedate town of Franceville, set amidst lush green rolling hills around the Mpassa river, was the venue for Cameroon’s penalty shoot-out win over Senegal in the last round.
So while Ghana have had to travel to the south-east of Gabon from Oyem, Cameroon were able to stay at their base in the nearby town of Moanda, one of the biggest manganese producers in the world.
There Hugo Broos’s side have been preparing contentedly in the knowledge they have already exceeded expectations in making it this far.
“Nobody was expecting us to be here but from the first day of our preparations for this tournament we had been hoping to go as far as possible,” the full-back Fai Collins told several media outlets, including AFP, on Tuesday.
Cameroon progressed from their group at the expense of hosts Gabon and then edged out a much-fancied Senegal thanks to a Sadio Mane miss in a penalty shoot-out that followed a goalless draw.
They have put behind them the withdrawals of key players before the competition, including Joel Matip and Eric Choupo-Moting, and are flourishing under their Belgian coach.
“The players who didn’t come have their own personal reasons why they didn’t come and we are not looking back,” added Collins, of Standard Liege in Belgium.
“We are focused on those who are here. It is a group, not one player or two players.”
It is also a young squad, but Collins remembers well the win against Ghana at the same stage nine years ago when the Indomitable Lions side featured stars like Samuel Eto’o and Rigobert Song.
“I remember I was at home, watching the game with my parents,” he said.
“It was an extraordinary feeling for us beating Ghana knowing they had a very good squad. Now I am here and I hope I can have the same feeling as I did back then.”