By Matt Carter
With the whiff of controversy surrounding their seminal quarter-final success over Tunisia still very much in the air, hosts Equatorial Guinea leave their Bata stranglehold to take on Avram Grant’s Ghana.
Having long since belittled those who initially judged them as mere token participants, Equatorial Guinea have already surpassed even the most rose-tinted of expectations. That being said, the National Thunder arguably enter the last four clash with a point to proof, given that the dubious manner of their last-eight triumph has led to numerous questions regarding the hosts viability as semi-finalists. The fact that referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn’s has landed a six-month ban due to his role in that chaotic night in Bata has only added further fire to those doubting the National Thunder.
For all the questions marks however, the scale of their accomplishment should not be undervalued – it needs to be reiterated that this is a nation ranked outside FIFA’s top 100 and who endured a calamitous preparation period. Further to that, in a storm of adjudged foul play it’s easy to overlook that alongside advancing this far Equatorial Guinea have also produced some of the tournament’s most endearing football to date.
There is little doubt, though, that in Ghana the hosts are faced with their most substantial obstacle. Avram Grant’s side remain a difficult proposition to decipher, given that even despite their advancing to a fourth consecutive semi-final, there is still a nagging feeling that the Black Stars are lacking in collective cohesion.
In navigating their way this far, Ghana has relied more on individual moments and opposing defensive lapses rather than what might be considered complete team performances. Nonetheless what the Black Stars can boast is a series of offensive weapons in peak condition, with Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu currently enjoying particularly prosperous tournaments – there is no question that Ghana’s attacking arsenal is a notch up from anything Equatorial Guinea have encountered to date.
The duel between coaches Grant and Esteban Becker is an intriguing one, given that whilst Becker is long assured of a place in Equatoguinean folklore, the jury remains firmly out on Grant – perhaps hardly surprising considering the Israeli’s appointment was met with a less than tepid reception.
Equatorial Guinea can also take heart from recent history, given that in both 2012 and 2013 the Black Stars were burned out by less fancied opposition in the form of Zambia and Burkina Faso respectively – although defeat to the hosts would eclipse those two disenchanting setbacks by considerable distance.
The possibility of Equatorial Guinea gracing the grandest stage would have been considered beyond even the widest realms of possibility when competition commenced. However, with burgeoning momentum behind them coupled with the fortune gods seemingly being on their side, there is genuine viability for such a scenario unfolding.
Ghana – in their fourth successive semi-final – will undoubted take to the field as favourites and encouragingly have already negotiated choppy waters to make it this far. Nonetheless the Black Stars would be ill-advised to take their foot of the gas against a side who have already orchestrated one of the most captivating AFCON stories to date.