Day 4 provided us with matches from contenders of Group D, where favourites Ghana took on Botswana; while the 2nd game was played by Mali and Guinea.
Ghana 1-0 Botswana
Being Risk-Averse Is A Dangerous Way To Play
The first half depicted a solid display from the minnows, Botswana. They were more focused their defending rather than their attacking, allowing Ghana to dominate possession in the opening moments of the game. They were punished for their risk-averse approach after 24 minutes, when a momentary lapse in their solid display had allowed John Mensah to solidly knee the ball into the net after they failed to get rid of the ball from a corner.
This risk-averse behavior has been observed in other matches, but it goes to show that the old cliche “attack is the best form of defence” is the best method to adopt in these games, as long as you have a solid, organised defence to help prevent counter-attacks from the opposition. Botswana were unlucky (or Ghana were lucky, even) to have a header, after a lovely burst and cross down the wing, expertly cleared off the line by Boye. If that had gone in then Ghana would have had to step up a gear in order to penetrate the solid Botswana defence again.
Taking One For The Team… Again
No doubt about it, John Mensah had a solid game. He scored with his knee from a corner, a special kind of goal indeed. But that goal was eclipsed by getting sent off after 65 minutes, after taking down Jerome Ramatlhakwane right outside the box. It was a fair call by the referee as he was the last man and he did prevent Botswana from picking up an equaliser (oh, and Badu did his part by taking the free-kick to the face and walking afterwards like a boss). This was Mensah’s 2nd suspension in 3 African Cup of Nations matches for Ghana. Much of the blame should go to Anthony Annan, though, for a ridiculous, unaware header back to his own goal.
Ghana will be hard to beat
Botswana failed to capitalise on their man-advantage and the score ended with Ghana winning 1-0. In a way, Botswana were disappointing tactically in the second half as after they Ghana went a man down, it almost seemed a harder task for them. For Ghana the problem of lack of creativity persists, but they did look like a side who were going to be hard to beat – that’s the most important thing, right?
Mali 1-0 Guinea
This was the clash of the unpredictables, two of the most frustrating sides to watch in Africa – Guinea and Mali. These two have never qualified for the world cup and despite showing promise in recent Cup of Nations they usually flatter to deceive. Guinea can enchant and enrage in equal measure, while Mali possessed some of the best individuals in Africa in the 2000s – Mahamadou Diarra, Momo Sissoso, Seydou Keita and Fredi Kanoute. Individuals don’t make a team, though, as the Eagles have found out - their last two appearances in the Cup of Nations ending in group stage exits.
The game was scrappy to start affair for the opening quarter of an hour, Mali controlling the majority of possession in a 4-2-3-1 system whilst Guinea committed countless fouls which disrupted the rhythm of the game in their 4-5-1 system.
The Lass can play
Nineteen-year-old Alhassane Bangoura, who has scored for 23 goals in 25 goals for Real Vallecano’s youth team this season, impressed as his terrifying pace caused trouble, his best moment was a solo counter-attack from his own half into the Mali half, his shot outside the box going straight into the side-netting.
On the half hour, brilliant work by Modibo Maiga on the right wing eventually led to the ball falling to Bakaye Traore outside the box, whose thunderbolt of a shot deflected past Yattare in the Mali goal, the sheer ferocity of it too much to handle. Guinea responded almost immediately with the sparkling Bangoura going on another mazy run but shooting straight at the keeper.
Mali impressive in possession
In Seydou Keita Mali possess someone who, even though he isn’t a regular starter for them, doesn’t look out of place when he plays for Barcelona. Keita’s tika-taka-ness seems to have rubbed off his Mali team-mates, the Eagles were fantastically slick at times, playing a neat one-touch passing in tight spaces. Wingers Abdou Traore and Maiga were particularly good with their feet, as were the midfield. The lanky Cheick Diabate didn’t seem at full fitness, with heavy strapping on his left leg, but with their slick passing and trickery on the wings they should be able to create opportunities for him.
Guinea Kante get past him
Guinea best passage of play came straight after half-time as they pushed for the equaliser. It seems like Michel Dussuyer has been taking advice from his compatriot, Monsieur Wenger, as he Alhassane Bangoura off – even though he was one of the most impressive players on the pitch. The Syli Nationale were unlucky not to have come out of this game with at least a draw, Pascal Feindouno became increasingly influential as the game went on. Much of that lack of luck was due to Panathinaikos centre-back, Cedric Kante, who was an absolute kryptonite at the back throughout the match for Mali, his physicality and timely interventions saving Guinea on several occasions.
Coach Alain Giresse will have been worried at how Guinea caused trouble from full-back positions, a better side may capitalise on the opportunities presented. That said, they seemed well-disciplined, direct and had pace in most areas of the team (qualities that are standard ingredients of Giresse’s teams), they’ll fancy their chances against Ghana. Guinea were unlucky not to get more from the game, Botswana await in a match that will decide their fate.