Black Stars captain, Asamoah Gyan, and enterprising forward Christian Atsu have made a rallying call to their teammates to put their defeat to Egypt behind them and focus on how to put heat on DR Congo on Sunday afternoon when they clash in the semi-final in Oyem.
Having already qualified for the last eight, the Stars did not let their heads down despite their disappointment but rather pledged to make amends in the important fixture at the 20,000-capacity Stade de Oyem, with a ticket to the semi-final too irresistible.
Gyan, whose participation in Sunday’s match hangs in a balance after sustaining a thigh injury last Wednesday, vented his frustration on the poor nature of the pitch which led to his injury and that of many other players, including teammate Baba Rahman. But he took positives from the loss and said that should spur them on to turn things around.
“We make no excuses for the loss; we just have to move on to the next game and it’s not going to be easy because we are playing against a tough side.
“We have to go back to the drawing board and see how things develop from there,” said Gyan who is at the cusp of history – the striker’s next game marks his 100th international appearance and his next goal will take his tally to an impressive 50 goals.
In fact, the Stars returned to training yesterday morning as Avram Grant and his assistant Maxwell Konadu supervised their recovery before the team jetted off in the afternoon to Oyem to prepare for Sunday’s clash.
An optimistic Atsu, who is in fine form at this year’s AFCON, said the Stars “still have hope” and reckon Congo to be more important than brooding over their defeat to Egypt, who topped Group D and remained in Port Gentil to play against their North African rivals, Morocco, at the quarter-finals.
Youngster Samuel Tetteh was handed a place in the starting lineup last Wednesday and could feature against the Leopards in the unlikely event Gyan is unable to regain his fitness by Sunday. He was equally bullish about the team’s prospects against one of the tournament’s most impressive sides who defeated Morocco 1-0 and played two of Ghana’s neighbours, Togo and Cameroun, and will be accustomed to the style of West African teams.
Florent Igbene’s side are improving match after match and will enter Sunday’s game very confident and determined to deny Ghana a place in the semi-final. The Leopards, twice African champions, carry a reputation as tough competitors and have a scored four goals as compared with Ghana’s two.
And despite not having big name players on his roster, Igbene has more scoring options as all the team’s goals have come from different players -- Junior Kabananga, Ndombe Mubele, Paul-Jose M'Poku and Herve Kage.
Coach Grant maintains that the Congolese will be tough customers as they have always been against Ghana in recent years, but is confident his side is mentally tough and will rise to the occasion.
“Congo is a good side and Sunday’s match will be a tough game. It will be a different game because some of the players who rested [Thomas Partey and Frank Acheampong] will be back to the game,” confirmed the Israeli trainer.
Partey’s calm presence and Mubarak Wakaso’s combative play in the holding midfield roles will be key to Ghana’s quest for victory, as winning the midfield contest will be very cricual for either side.
Grant will be expected to play the Ayew brothers – Andre and Jordan – as well as Atsu and Tetteh in attack, if Gyan is unable to recover for the game.
The two sides last clashed at the 2013 AFCON in South Africa which ended in a 2-2 drawn game at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. However, they have a long history of encounters at various competitions since 1965, with Ghana leading the head-to-head record with eight wins, four losses and three draws in 15 games.