High Expectations In Tamale • As Group D Matches Come Alive Today
With hours to the commencement of the first Group D match at the Tamale Stadium, today, fans in the area are gearing themselves up to witness their first ever Nations Cup match in the metropolis.There were long queues at the premises of the Agricultural Development Bank, the Ghana Commercial Bank and Ghana Post, areas designated for the sale of the tickets, early in the morning, with expectant fans itching to purchase tickets for the first match.
The opening game will be played between Senegal and Tunisia at 5 p.m. while the second game will be played between South Africa and Angola at 7 p.m.
Already, the atmosphere looks set for the game with the arrival of the Senegalese fans through neighbouring Burkina Faso, together with some local fans mobilised by representatives of the four teams.
The vociferous fans can be spotted in the national colours of their preferred teams. However, Senegal seem to be enjoying much patronage for the obvious reason of their captain, El Hadji Diouf, who plays for West Ham in the English Premier League.
Following their quarter final berth in Ghana/Nigeria CAN 2000 and their heroic performance in the Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup, the Taranga Lions of Senegal have risen from obscurity to become one of the respected teams on the African continent.
Since placing fourth in the 1965 and 1990 Cup of Nations tournaments, they have progressed steadily to reach the quarter finals stage on four occasions in 1992, 1994, 2000 and 2004.
Captained by the controversial and charismatic Diouf and supported by teammates such as Tony Silva, Habib Beye, Ibrahim Faye, Frederic Mendy, Papa Bouba Diop, Henry Camara and Mamadou Niang, the Lions have come to the tournament not only to roar and frighten their opponents but to conquer them as well.
Against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, the Lions coach, Henry Kasperczak, will have a tough nut to crack in seasoned players such as Francileudo Dos Santos, Issam Jomaa, Chaoukri Ben Saada, Mehdi Nafti, Chaker Zouaghi and Karim Hagui.
The challenge of the Tunisians will lie in the potency of their strikers and how they can create or convert their chances into goals.
The Tunisians, who are noted for their skilful play won the Africa Cup in 2004 as hosts. This was after they had lost in the finals in 1965 to Ghana at home and in 1994 to Nigeria.
Another team to watch in the group is South Africa. The team certainly would not want to repeat their unimpressive performances in the last two episodes of the tournament in 2004 and 2006 where they were eliminated in the first round.
The only time they won the cup was in 1996 when they hosted it for the first time. Since then, they have been runners-up in 1998, bronze medalists in 2000 and quarter finalist in 2002 in Mali.
The head coach of the Bafana Bafana, Alberto Parreira, and the skipper, Aaron Makoena, described the group as balanced and that any of the teams stood the chance of advancing to the next stage of the competition.
The team is a blend of young local and foreign professionals who include, Sibusiso Zuma, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Elrio van Heerden, Nasief Morris and Bryce Moon.
Against Angola, one of the under achievers in Nations Cup history, the match is likely to go South Africa's way. But the Palancas Negras may prove the bookmakers wrong if their performance in the past three years is anything to go by.
They qualified at the expense of Nigeria as one of the five countries to represent Africa at the 2006 World Cup in Germany in a group that included Eritrea, Kenya and Swaziland.
As host of the 2010 Nations Cup, the Angolans would want to improve on their performance in the tournament and progress past the first round elimination they have always suffered in their four appearances.
Story by Zakaria Alhassan