“With a great generation comes great expectation, and that brings pressure and the awful spectre of failure.” those were the words of Guardian journalist Jonathan Wilson today; which really pinpoint the position of the Ivory Coast going into tonight’s game against Ghana.
The early tournament favorites needed a win to guarantee progress to the quarter-finals after drawing 0-0 with Burkina Faso in their opening game of the tournament, and that they did by beating the Black Stars comprehensively.
It was the Elephants who made the brighter of starts as they mounted a couple of attacking chances, but they did not look to threaten Ghana’s defence. Ghana also had their chances in the opening few minutes; however, the Elephants were a far stronger side at the back; but they also looked the more likely to break the deadlock.
And that they did in the 23rd minute of the game. A great attacking run down the right wing from Salomon Kalou who in turn cut through The Black Stars defence before passing to Gervinho who slotted the ball into the back of the net. From here until half-time the Ivory Coast sat back a little on their lead, that allowed Ghana to break forward as they kept applying the pressure and looked like they were playing for something now.
As the second half got underway Ghana made a change in midfield bringing on Michael Essien who they were keeping in reserve as he recovers from his recent injury, Chelsea will be pleased that he has now made a return to football, but won’t be happy if he returns home injured.
Ivory Coast were reduced to ten men in the 55th minute after Emmanuel Eboue launched a shocking two-footed tackle on Opoku Agyemang in the oppositions half of the field; it was no surprise when the referee showed the Arsenal man a red card.
As we entered the final 30 minutes of the game it looked to be all to play for now that The Elephants were down a man but they soon stuck a fatal blow to the hearts of Ghana as they went 2-0 in front. This time through a fantastic free-kick from Siaka Tiene, who struck the ball from 32metres out, which flew into the top left hand corner of the goal; it looked to be game over for Ghana.
After that both sides had the odd chance, Ghana despite having an extra man looked to be totally on the back foot. Michael Essien had a pop at a free-kick from a decent position but it flew over the bar. Essien was also the centre of attention moments later as he was challenged by team-mate Didier Drogba, not to worry the Black Stars captain returned to the field moments later; as Chelsea and Drogba breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t game over just yet as there were two late goals from both sides. A Kader Keita cross managed to find Didier Drogba in the penalty area who headed the ball home making it 3-0. But the Ivory Coast’s Soulemane Bamba brought down Asamoah Gyan in the box who slotted home the resulting penalty a mere consolation for the Black Stars
A job well done from the Ivory Coast, they pulled the win out of the bag just when they needed it and are now the first side to progress to the quarter-finals of this year’s African Cup of Nations.
Ghana have one final fixture on Tuesday when they take on Burkina Faso, a win will also secure them a spot in the quarter finals. One could say on tonight’s performance that the Black Stars had already got one eye on that game on Tuesday, but as we know in this tournament you have to expect the unexpected.
Despite a slow start I still think the Ivory Coast will reach the final, but after their defeat against Gabon on Wednesday I think my second choice for the final Cameroon won’t make it there. If I have learned anything this week it’s that Egypt are the most consistent team in the competition, you would have to be mad to bet against them retaining their title even at this early stage.