Sports News of Sunday, 13 October 2019
Hosts Senegal square off with holders Ghana at Stade Lot Dior in Thies tonight, in the first final of the new-look WAFU Cup of Nations.
It’s a clash that should be a delight for neutrals, with the finalists having been the top two seeded sides ahead of the draw, and being among the most eye-catching teams going forward during the two-week regional West African showpiece.
The revised WAFU Cup of Nations format means that no side is eliminated after the first round matches, with the losers dropping into the newly conceived Plate competition ensuring that all 16 competing nations have the chance to play at least two matches.
Ghana entered the tournament having not had a domestic league since June 2018, due to the corruption crisis enveloping football there, hence coach Maxwell Konadu had his work cut out attempting to assemble a local squad of players with the Ghana Premier League only due to resume in November.
The reigning champions, who won the title on home soil two years ago, were in danger of a first-round exit after toiling against the Gambia in their opener, but they have steadily grown into the tournament, as the players have found match sharpness and begun to rediscover the rhythm of competitive action.
When Ghana fell behind in their quarterfinal against old foe Burkina Faso — who recently defeated the Black Stars in Kumasi in an African Nations Championship qualifier — it appeared as though this rusty team had been found out.
But Ghana demonstrated their quality to equalise through captain Shafiu Mumuni who, along with Augustine Okrah and Joseph Esso, has been part of an impressive attacking unit.
After riding their luck to dispatch the Stallions on penalties — with Eric Ofori Antwi making two fine stops — they blitzed a fancied Ivory Coast in the semifinals, with Mumuni scoring a 20-minute hat-trick, the first in the tournament’s history.
Reaching Sunday’s final has been an excellent achievement for Ghana, although they’re up against a Senegal side that boasts a physical and athletic defensive unit, inspiration going forward, and a cutting edge upfront.
While there’s been little this tournament to match Ghana’s second-half blitz of Ivory Coast, the Teranga Lions push them close for attacking quality, having flexed their attacking muscles against a strong Mali side in the semifinals and by dispatching Guinea-Bissau 3-1 in their opener.
However, they have their flaws; they were rattled when Guinean-Bissau pulled a goal back to give themselves a fighting chance of progression, and they were largely neutralised by a Benin side without two of their key players in the quarterfinals.
Indeed, the Squirrels were firmly in that contest until goalkeeper Sheyi Damilola spilt a shot into the path of Philippe Paulin Keny, with Senegal striker Youssouph Badji squandering a series of chances.
Similarly, the Lions let the occasion get to them at times in their semifinal against Mali, with star man Ibrahima Drame very lucky not to have seen a red card after striking Issaka Samake after a touchline tangle between the pair.
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