MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) continues his African Cup of Nations analysis by looking at Thursday's semi-final encounter between Cameroon and Ghana.
Cameroon v Ghana | Thursday 19:00 | Eurosport
How the heck did we end up here?
Thursday nigh in Franceville sees Cameroon face Ghana for a place in the African Cup of Nations – the same Cameroon I labelled pre-tournament as the “worst Cameroon side in living memory” and a Ghana outfit I’ve been opposing from the outset.
Such statements and positions could and probably should make me look foolish and whilst I may sound petty and bitter, the fact is that neither nation have particularly impressed en-route to the final-four.
Cameroon ousted tournament favourites Senegal on penalties in their quarter-final clash here in Franceville. The result gave Hugo Broos’ team the opportunity to stay at their base in the nearby town of Moanda in preparation for their first semi-final contest since 2008.
The Indomitable Lions’ build-up has been slightly tarnished over a disagreement relating to bonuses and many frontline stars decided against call-ups. And although the current crop deserve credit for negotiating a passage here, it’s difficult to find too many positives in their performances.
Hard to find positives
Cameroon have only won one match in 90 minutes – against Group A outsiders Guinea-Bissau – as three of their four fixtures ending all-square, the last two of which concluded goalless. But it doesn’t really tell the whole story.
Broos’ boys were a hair’s breadth away from exiting at the pool stage against hosts Gabon in their last group game and although they edged an atrocious contest with Senegal, it was down to Fabrice Ondoa’s heroics between the sticks during the penalty shootout to progress.
The Indomitable Lions are aware of their limitations so sit deep and allow their opposition onto them, using their pace to spring forward on the counter. In fairness, Ondoa’s only been forced into six saves across the past two games but his last-minute block against Gabon was crucial to securing a last-eight berth.
In Benjamin Moukandjo and Vincent Aboubakar, Cameroon boast good forward threats but the supply line has struggled and bar the effervescent Christian Bassogog, it’s difficult to highlight another top performer in their campaign.
For all the negativity, Cameroon are showing a togetherness on the pitch and they’ve proven a tough nut to crack for many teams in recent times. Broos’ squad have suffered a sole loss in their last 23 matches and that came against France in a friendly – 12 of those outings ended in draws.
Ghana back in familiar territory
Ghana have reached the semi-finals stage in each of the last six tournaments but have not lifted the trophy since 1982 and were beaten by Ivory Coast in the final of 2015. The Black Stars have gained a reputation as bridesmaids over the past decade and I’m still to be convinced they’re marriage material.
Avram Grant’s group overcame DR Congo 2-1 in Oyem on Sunday, secured thanks to a goal each from the Ayew brothers – Andre and Jordan. The triumph came following a transformed second-half display that the Congolese had few answers for.
It was the first occasion in the 2017 competition that Ghana had opened up. The Black Stars had previously edged past minnows Uganda and Mali before losing their final group-game against Egypt. All three of those fixtures featured fewer than two goals.
With Asamaoh Gyan set to return and with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Christian Atsu part of the side, Ghana should in theory have plenty of firepower to cause opposition sides problems. But having only seen it for only 45 minutes in Gabon, it’s hard to find faith in supporting the favourites at such skinny odds.
Goals in short supply
However, the last three goals Ghana have shipped have arrived from outside the penalty area and with Cameroon’s past four goals at AFCON also arriving from outside the box, the Black Stars should have enough beef to neutralise Cameroon’s rather uninspiring midfield.
The Indomitable Lions have failed to score with any of their last 23 shots in the tournament whilst 17 of their previous 23 games produced no more than two goals – 10 banked in the Under 1.5 Goals market.
The Under 1.5 Goals angle has proven profitable in only 6/18 (33%) AFCON semi-finals this century but since 2006, 10 of 24 semi-finals at World, Euro or African Championships have banked in this market and I’m keen to count on a repeat at 7/5 (Marathon) as well backing a 0-0 half-time correct score (5/4 SkyBet).