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Champions Egypt, youthful Ghana clash in Cup climax

Defending champions Egypt have steamrollered their way into Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final where they must now overcome a youthful Ghana side to claim a third consecutive continental crown.

Beset by injuries Ghana have excelled themselves, the eight youngsters from the Under-20 World Cup winning side belying their inexperience to manfully step into the shoes of the likes of injury-hit stars Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah, John Pantsil and John Mensah.

Ghana started out with an opening loss to Ivory Coast, but then rattled off wins against Burkina Faso, Angola and Nigeria to make it to their first final in 18 years.

Egypt for their part have have looked invincible, brushing aside Nigeria, Mozambique, Benin, Cameroon and old foes Algeria to set themselves up for a third straight title and seventh in all.

The smart money must be with Hassan Shehata’s Pharaohs pulling off an amazing treble to offer them handsome compensation for missing out on the World Cup.

But Ghana won’t prove easy pickings, as they have shown scant regard for reputation here in Angola, witness the way they dug deep and defended after Asamoah Gyan’s decisive first half goal in the semi-final against Nigeria.

For Gyan, 2010 has proved a far more enjoyable experience than the 2008 edition on home turf.

In Ghana the in-form Rennes striker was psychologically and mentally knocked for six by the attacks directed by fans and media who slated him for his lack of form.

“I felt bad two years ago in Ghana,” he said. “But I’m a strong man – mentally strong – and as a strong man I have to keep on going.

“I believe in my qualities – I’m scoring for my club – I’m also scoring for my country – I know they are happy back home.

“I’m not angry, I’m confident because I’m scoring goals – that’s what everyone is expecting of me.”

Egypt have scored 14 goals to two conceded in their path to Sunday’s climax, but Ghana coach Milovan Rajevic was unperturbed by the free-scoring opposition lying in wait.

“People are saying we need to score at least two goals against Egypt to win, but I say we only need to score half a goal more than them to win the title.

“Egypt are a very polished team. They have been playing together for a long time and their coach has also been there a long time.

“We played a friendly against them in Cairo last year and so we know them well, but we’ll prepare our team to achieve a result.”

The Serb added: “In the quarter-finals Angola, playing at home and with all their experience, were favourites. Nigeria were favourites, now Egypt are favourites. They’ve won the last two titles, but we’re not thinking about that.

“What’s more important, playing beautiful football or the result?”

Ghana are hopeful inspirational skipper and goalkeeper Richard Kingson will have recovered from a groin problem to face Egypt – the Wigan stopper was receiving treatment in a Luanda hospital on Friday.

Egypt turn up at the 11 November stadium their confidence sky high after Thursday’s 4-0 semi-final wipe out of eight-man Algeria.

Star player Mohamed Zidan, said: “We were one million times better than Algeria. We haven’t won five games here in this competition to lose the final.”

Captain Ahmed Hassan, in his 171st international, warned Ghana to expect more of the same silky smooth football from the kings of Africa.

“Against Ghana we will continue to play as we have started. We don’t care how they play, we are here to defend our title, and we’ll do everything to succeed.

“Our 4-0 win over Algeria has proved we are the best team in Africa, without argument.”

Sun 31 January, 2010
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