MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) continues his African Cup of Nations analysis by looking at Group D's final encounter between Egypt and Ghana.
Egypt v Ghana | Wednesday 19:00 | Eurosport
Egypt face Ghana in Port-Gentil on Wednesday night needing only a point to qualify for the quarter-finals alongside the Black Stars. The Pharaohs can progress regardless should Mali fail to beat Uganda elsewhere in Group D.
Victory for Hector Cuper’s charges would see Egypt leapfrog Ghana and advance as group winners but that might not be so appealing. Group D’s table-toppers remain in Port-Gentil for the quarter-finals while the runners-up must up sticks to Oyem in the north of the country.
The pitch nobody wants to play on
An awful pitch in Port-Gentil has had an adverse impact on the quality of the football played there, many injuries have been suffered on the surface and heavy rain in the city since the weekend has only added to the problem.
Tuesday night’s 3-1 win for DR Congo against Togo was the first fixture in five at Port-Gentil to feature more than a solitary goal. The four Group D games to be played here have produced an average of just 9.25 shots from inside the penalty box and an expected goals per-game tally of 1.54 – it drops to 1.29 when excluding Ghana’s penalty against Uganda.
Egypt’s Ahmed Elmohamady said, “Everyone wants to play in the other city. No one wants to play in this stadium,” so we could conceivably have two teams doing their best to avoid winning the match and that’s why the draw is trading at miniscule even-money odds with Ladbrokes.
It’s an unusual situation and those hunting for a slice of value elsewhere will be put off by 3/1 quotes on No Goalscorer (Ladbrokes).
Only seven (10%) of 71 final African Cup of Nations group-games since 2000 concluded 0-0 – never occurring more than once in a competition but we’ve already seen enough stale encounters this week to suggest another could be on the cards here.
For what it’s worth, Egypt beat Ghana fairly convincingly 2-0 in a 2018 World Cup qualifier last November and are unbeaten in 21 AFCON games (W16-D5-L0), leaking just once in seven matches at the tournament now.
There are doubts over full-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi and 44-year-old Essam El Hadary remains their only fit goalkeeper but the Pharaohs remain in a reasonably strong position despite failing to convince during their opening two games in Group D.
Substitute Abdallah El Said scored an 89th minute winner against Uganda last time out in a drab contest with few clear chances for either side. The deteriorating pitch in Port-Gentil didn’t aid the seven-times champions approach play and they failed to break down a resolute Cranes defence for long periods.
Meanwhile, opponents Ghana withstood intense second-half pressure to beat Mali 1-0 and book their place in the quarter-finals. Andre Ayew had fired wide from six yards before Asamoah Gyan headed in the opener as the Black Stars started brightly before fading after the interval.
Avram Grant’s group were run ragged in the second period and their split-personality performance will be a major concern for to the coach. However, he will have been pleased by Thomas Partey’s Man of the Match performance in the middle of the park.
Skipper Gyan became his country's all-time top scorer in the competition with eight goals, overtaking Osei Kofi, against Uganda. He’s also the first player to score at six consecutive AFCON finals but whether he’ll feature on Wednesday is up for debate with Grant milling over making multiple changes.
The Israeli has been scathing about the surface and will be well aware of the permutations ensuring pool winners return to Port-Gentil for the last-eight. The Ghanaians have only lost once in their last 12 AFCON group matches (W9-D2-L1) and scored in each of their past 18 but I won’t be supporting them here.
A potential approach
If you’re looking for a clever clogs approach, Bet365 offer a Bore Draw Refund if you back a losing selection in a 0-0 draw on selected markets. With that in mind, backing either side to win 1-0 might be appropriate – the correct score has proven profitable in 12/77 (16%) final AFCON group games since 2000.
Seven of Egypt’s past eight wins have arrived by either the 1-0 or 2-0 correct score with four of Ghana’s previous five triumphs also following a similar pattern.
But there’s little value on offer at Bet365 with a 1-0 Egypt triumph trading at 9/2 – it’s 6/1 at Marathon – and a 1-0 victory for Ghana available at 13/2 – it’s 8/1 at Marathon so instead, I’ll be leaving this game alone.
Egypt v Ghana – No bet