Indisputably, Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, and Ivory Coast are the favourites to win the 28th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. The Equatorial Guinea-Gabon African showpiece has been fore-regarded in many quarters as below the usual verve because of the absence of big wigs like Egypt, who have under their sleeves a record seven titles with the last three coming in an unpreceded three-peat in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
However, the critics, or should I refer to them as optimist, have begun to re-think their stance after the tournament recorded some shocking results after just two days. But one wavelength on which we all stand is that Ghana could play Cote d’Ivoire at a point in the tournament. Nonetheless, most fans have stated that that epic clash between the neighbours can happen in the finals. Fair!! I would love the two sides to meet only in the finals. However, a possible clash between the two nations could be seen a stage earlier than the finals. Matter-of-factly, this will occur if the two nations qualify from their groups with alternate positions. More succinctly, the two nations can clash in the semi finals if La Cote d’Ivoire, in one instance, places top of Group B and Ghana places second in Group D or, in another instance, La Cote d’Ivoire places second in Group B and Ghana places first in Group D. Let me state emphatically that this possible semi-final clash can only take place if the two win their quarter final matches.
Ghana and La Cote d’ivoire will only be finalists if they qualify from their groups on corresponding positions. In other words, if La Cote d’Ivoire places first in Group B and Ghana also places first in Group D or La Cote d’Ivoire places second in Group B and Ghana also places second in Group D, the two nations may battle in the finals if they win their knock-out matches.
The permutations I have done above are as a result of the fixture of the tournament. Pairings have been designed in a way that, in the quarter final stage, Winner of Group A will play Runner-up of Group B while the Winner of Group B plays Runner-Up of Group A. The same fixture applies to Groups C and D. It is after this point that Ghana and La Cote d’Ivoire COULD clash. Whoever wins Group A or places second in Group B will face any nation that wins Group D or places second in Group C. This will be one of the semi-final matches. Therefore, if La Cote d’Ivoire becomes a runner-up of Group B, for example, and Ghana wins Group D, the two sides will come face-to-face in the semi-finals IF La Cote d’Ivoire beat the Winner of Group A and Ghana, in turn, beat the runner-up of Group C. Again, if La Cote d’Ivoire wins Group B and Ghana places second in Group D, fans will see an Elephant jumping high to clamp down a Black Star.
With this possible semi-final or, as is the expectation of the majority of football fans world wide, final clash between the two sides, let me quickly jump to be implicitly patriotic by expounding, as you will find out later, that battles between Ghana and La Cote d’Ivoire has been a ding-dong affair since the epic penalty shoot-outs in 1992, when the Elephants won their one and only Africa Cup of Nations trophy at the expense of the Black Stars.
AFCON Head-to-Head after 1992
The two sides met in Tunisia 1994 at the quarter-final stage, where the Elephants triumphed 2-1 over the Black Stars. The Black Stars revenged this defeat by beating the Elephants 2-0 in the opening group game in South Africa in 1996. I will always remember that characteristic strike from Anthony Yeboah, which can pass as one of the beautiful goals in the history of the tournament. There was no meeting in Burkina Faso 1998 though Ghana was shocked by their eastern neighbours Togo 2-1. On home soil in Accra, I remember asking myself whether Ghana was playing the match with one player less as the Ivorians dominated play to beat the Black Stars 2-0. Their next meeting came eight years later and co-incidentally it was in Ghana. At the then Kumasi Sports Stadium, Ghana thrashed La Cote d’Ivoire 4-2 to win a Bronze medal, consoling an entire football nation that had trumpeted a ‘Host-and-win’ mantra. La Cote d’Ivoire, led by Didier Drogba, revenged in grand style to beat Ghana 3-1 in Angola in a group that had been decimated by the withdrawal of Togo from the tournament. The next meeting could be in Gabon and as I have expounded the ding-dong affair, your guess is as good as mine regarding the nation on whose side the pendulum will swing to.
FIFA All time record
One should not forget that between the FIFA-recognised matches between Ghana and La Cote d’Ivoire, the Black Stars are ahead. Ghana has won 12 out of the 30 meetings between them with 7 having ended in draws. La Cote d’Ivoire have won 11. What fans should also understand is that in the past three nations cups, Ghana’s performance has been better than La Cote d’Ivoire’s though the latter beat Ghana in the last edition. Many have been trumpeting that La Cote d’Ivoire are the favourites to win the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations but I strongly think that the Black Stars will beat the Elephants if the two meet at any point in this tournament.