By Maher Mezahi
It’s been a decade and a half since Ghana and Algeria last played. Then, neither side were nearly at their respective current heights, and they played out a banal 1-1 draw. Fifteen years later, Algeria are the number one ranked team in Africa, and Ghana have come closest to becoming the first African side to ever qualify for a World Cup semi-finals.
So the North Africans come to Equatorial Guinea as most pundits’ favourites. Though Algeria beat South Africa in their first match 3-1, Les Fennecs were not at all at their best. At times Bafana Bafana thoroughly outplayed Christian Gourcuff’s men, ripping apart a fragile defensive line time and time again. Defensive adjustments are an imperative before facing a Black Stars attack who are perfectly capable of springing to life with the rehabilitation of Asamoah Gyan.
There’s no doubting Christian Gourcuff will play a 4-4-2, but there might be a change in personnel. The introduction of Saphir Taider against South Africa balanced Algeria’s midfield, so he might replace Medhi Lacen. Riyad Mahrez was shut down by Anele Ngcongca, and Ishak Belfodil’s positioning as a second striker stretched the South African defence and he forged a complementary relationship with Islam Slimani.
Avram Grant will almost certainly employ a 3-5-2. The new formation did not initially pan out for the Black Stars. Senegal kept the ball well, and neutralised Ghana’s wingplay on a compact Mongomo pitch. After contracting a mild bout of Malaria, Asamoah Gyan has been declared fit to play against Algeria, which is a major boost. Gyan adds seniority to a young team, and will force the Algerian defence to reconsider their comfort levels.
Pundits will tease the narrative of two tussling African giants, but the more pertinent talking point will be Ghana’s immediate elimination should Les Fennecs triumph. Ghana have been accustomed to progressing in the deeper stages of this tournament, but if they fail to do so in Equatorial Guinea, real questions must be asked of the football federation.