We now know who is in the final of the African Cup and it includes a surprise, and some would say that’s what makes our sport great. Zambia were the surprise and they will be part of the party along with the Ivory Coast as their ‘dance partner’, who were expected to do well. Ghana went out despite their being favourites in the betting to get to the final. A Mayuka goal was enough to seal their glory and leave the likes of Ayew, Asamoah and company with nothing. In the other semi-final, also decided by a single goal, in this case by Gervinho, it was enough for the Ivory Coast to book their ticket to the final. As is becoming the norm, the semi-finals have given us things to talk about. So here we are.
Ghana 0 - Zambia 1
Ghana started as favourites to reach the final but Zambia sprung a surprise.
With a 1-4-2-3-1, the Ghanaians were dangerous, had most of the possession and had more chances than their opponents. But team-work and organisation took Zambia through to the final holding on for a 1-0 win. It could have been different if Gyan (Ghana) had scored from the penalty spot but he wasted it. Nor could they convert chances for Gyan, J Ayew and Asamoah. As for Zambia, they had a clear chance which Katongo narrowly missed.
Ghana looked the more likely winners because of their forwards, A Ayew and J Ayew with ability on the wings, and Asamoah with good movement behind the striker, Gyan. Protected by two solid centre midfield players, Boateng and Annan, they had a sound defence who had few problems.
It was a clear feeling that they were the better side although on the other hand they could not capitalise on their dominance. Their players, good physically and playing with a good tempo, were a bit disorganised in their pressing.
As for Zambia they played a flexible 1-4-4-2 with interchange of positions. Especially in midfield. Although they started with a clear system, they then started to switch positions with Kalaba, Chansa and even Kasonde. In the second half, after the substitution of Lungu for Kasonde, Chansa moved to centre midfield alongside Sinkala.
In the end, what stood out most was Zambia’s organisation and work-rate covering each other defensively, especially Sunzu who had a good game. Their goalkeeper, Mweene was decisive and showed character. He came out for high balls, not always effectively, but was always on top of his defenders not allowing them to relax. They had some good counter attacks and dropped off quickly enough. A great goal by Mayuka was decisive, and Boateng received a second yellow card leaving Ghana with ten men for the last few minutes.
Finally to sum up, the team beat the individuals.
Mali 0 - Ivory Coast 1
Meanwhile, in the other semi-final the favourites in this game went through. Ivory Coast, just about went through, started the game with the same system they finished with in the quarter final, a 1-4-2-3-1 which had served them well. Maybe because they can realise their potential which Yaya Toure gives them through his physical strength, he is always capable of attacking well coming from deep. The team is good physically, but they also clearly had more individual skill than Mali and were also able to mount counter attacks. We can also say the same about the players in the second line. Gervinho’s goal was an example of this. Apart from this, they knew how to impose a good tempo on the match and they had more possession.
Then in the second half, they were able to control and manage the important phases of the game. They had an excellent defence – attack balance and their dropping off was always organised with defensive balance provided by the two centre midfield, Tiote and Zokora. They also had good build up play wide more than centrally.
We can also mention the good work of Y Toure, with his movement between lines, attacking support, stamina and availability at important moments, and the dribbling and penetration by goalscorer Gervinho in the wide areas.
As for Mali, with their 1-4-2-3-1, they showed discipline and defensive intensity as their main assets. They also had a good work rate, planned set pieces, and in general, defending better centrally than wide. For the goal conceded, their main defects were exposed: a disorganised defence and their centre backs too slow in their lateral movement. In the second half, they were more or less the same, with a good attitude and desire, although their transitions defence – attack were not good. They were inconsistent in their build up play and never controlled the game or the tempo.
Finally, on Sunday we will witness a contest that was unexpected, if we may say that, with a new favourite, Ivory Coast, against a surprise team that has had a good tournament, Zambia. We are approaching the final and we won’t miss any of the details here.