Ghana tipped to beat Mali in west Africa match-up

Ghana tipped to beat Mali in west Africa match-up

FRANCEVILLE, Gabon - Agence France-Presse
Ghana tipped to beat Mali in west Africa match-up

Ghana will be hoping its forward Asamoah Gyan can pass the fitness test for the crucial match against Mali. AFP photo

The Africa Cup of Nations Group D will serve up a second west African derby when Ghana faces Mali on Jan. 28.

Mali edged past Guinea 1-0 in the first west African derby of the group on Jan. 24, while the third such clash will be next week when Ghana battles another sub-regional rival Guinea. Pre-tournament favorites Black Stars of Ghana will again be expected to beat Mali after they defeated Les Aigles home and away in the qualifying tournament for the 2010 World Cup, which also served as eliminator for the 2010 Nations Cup.

“It’s difficult when you are one of the pre-tournament favorites,” admitted Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic. “We have already learnt that it is not easy to beat any team here. We therefore have to be ready for Mali.”

However, Ghana, who is on $90,000-a-man if the team wins this competition, was far from convincing in its opening game against debutants Botswana and only had a lucky first-half goal by skipper John Mensah to thank for a slim win.

Mensah will miss this match on account of his sending off against Botswana, but will be available for selection in the final group game against Guinea if he recovers from a muscle problem he suffered in his team’s first game.

“It’s difficult to replace a player like Mensah but I have told the team that I would need all of them for this tournament and so I have 20 players who could replace him against Mali,” said Stevanovic.

Young center back Jonathan Mensah, who was introduced after Mensah’s dismissal for a professional foul, will most likely play alongside another youngster John Boye in the heart of the Black Stars back four against Mali.

There have been some concerns as regards the fitness of star striker Asamoah Gyan, who limped out of training on Jan. 26 with a suspected ankle complaint. It will be a heavy body blow for Ghana should Gyan fail to recover for this match as the Black Stars are thin on strikers for this tournament.

For Mali, Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita has assumed bigger responsibilities in the absence of stars like Mahamadou Diarra, Momo Sissoko and Frederic Kanoute.

Keita said Mali is driven to win again against a highly-rated Ghanaian side.

“Ghana remain the favorites in our group, but the Black Stars are not unbeatable,” maintained Keita.
“The objective is to play to our potentials and get a positive result on Saturday.”

He added: “We have not achieved anything yet and in football, things can happen so fast and so our second game against Ghana will be a lot more decisive.”