MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) analyses the Group D encounter between Ghana and Mali.
Ghana v Mali | Saturday 16:00 | Eurosport
Before the 2017 African Cup of Nations began I outlined three group favourites that looked vulnerable at the prices – Cameroon, Algeria and Ghana.
Cameroon have played above my expectations, I’ve not been at all surprised by Algeria’s toils and I was far from impressed with Ghana’s display in their opener against Uganda on Tuesday.
The Black Stars failed to shine and needed a penalty from Andre Ayew to settle the encounter. The West Ham winger has now scored seven AFCON goals since 2010 – the joint-highest tally over that period – but it failed to hide the Ghanaian flaws.
Black Stars fail to shine
Ghana were positive in the first-half, with Andre Ayew, his brother Jordan and Christian Atsu posing problems. Andre Ayew should have scored from a great cut-back by Jordan, while Atsu relentlessly tormented defender Isaac Isinde, who conceded the decisive penalty.
Avram Grant’s men should have settled matters late on when Atsu was clean through but his 12-yard drive was superbly saved by Onyango and in truth, the Black Stars failed to impress, seemingly happy to sit back and defend their lead.
Uganda hit the outside of the post as they hunted an equaliser and Ghana will need a drastic improvement if they are to realise dreams of a fifth quarter-final appearance in six AFCONs.
An injury picked up by left-back Baba Rahman is a big blow and having failed to impress in a very soft AFCON qualification group alongside Rwanda, Mauritius and Mozambique, the pressure is on Grant’s charges.
Ghana’s past three competitive victories have come against Uganda, Mauritius and Mozambique and their final third struggles are more than enough to put me off the team coming into Saturday’s crunch clash from Port-Gentil.
Ghana (5/4 Ladbrokes) seem to have been priced up on reputation and former glories. In fairness, they’ve W8-D2-L1 of their last 11 group-games, scored in each of their last 17 and kept clean sheets in their four most recent AFCON outings.
Make Mali the base of your bet
But even so, I’m happy to run a mile from Grant’s group here and instead put my focus, faith and cash on Mali to avoid defeat. 188BET are offering 8/11 on the Eagles with a +0.50 start in the Asian Handicap market and that’s just the ticket.
These two nations have met often in recent AFCONs – sharing two wins each over the past three editions so there well accustomed to playing each other. And whilst Ghana stunk the place out against Uganda, Mali were picking a valuable point against a highly-rated Egypt team.
Sure, it was a forgettable encounter but the point sets Alain Giresse’s side up for their final two fixtures and I’m expecting another organised and resolute performance. In a game of few chances, a point was a very fair result against Egypt and Mali’s penchant for draws mean the stalemate is another big runner.
The Eagles have seen six of their last eight AFCON games end all-square, including their last five group-games. However, I’m sticking to my guns here.
I want to see more from Bakary Sako and more from Mali in forward areas but should they decide to sit deep and defend their way to a result, so be it – they’re good enough to avoid defeat.
Ghana v Mali – Mali +0.50 Asian Handicap (8/11 188BET)