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17.11.2008 Football News

Ghana's spectacle proves a striking success

More open than ever, pundits from George Weah to El-Hadji Diouf said, and so it proved. Open in terms of the number of potential winners, and open in terms of the football played.  

The expected final between the hosts, Ghana, and the favourites, Ivory Coast, turned out to be the third and fourth placed play-off, while the final itself matched the team who had played the most enterprising football in the tournament, Egypt, against the side who had proved the most astute tactically, Cameroon.

There were disappointments, but they were limited. The great generation of Senegal proved that they are, as many had suspected, over the hill.

Nigeria were destabilised by the brusque managerial style of Berti Vogts and the fact that they reached the last eight was down more to Mali"s failure to link Frederic Kanoute with their gifted defensive midfielders than to any great effort of their own.

Zambia, presented with a unexpected chance to qualify by Cameroon"s defeat in their opening game, wilted as opportunity knocked, but other less fancied teams delighted.

Guinea were excellent in beating Morocco. Angola, fired by Flavio and Manucho, impressed in the group stage and even threatened Egypt in the quarters.

The two previous tournaments were won by the hosts, but Ghana proved it is possible to ride the wave of popular expectation for only so long.

Carried almost by the will of the people alone through their first two games, they blossomed against Morocco as Michael Essien was given a freer role.

Come the quarter-final against Nigeria, though, and they were back to neurotic scratchiness, before being stifled by Cameroon in the semi-final, as Essien was forced to centre-back.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, were Ivory Coast, who cruised through four games looking hugely impressive, before faltering at the first big test.

As Salomon Kalou admitted, they may end up looking back on this tournament as Senegal do 2002: as the moment when, with half a dozen world-class players at the top of their game, they should have won it.

The over-riding memory, though, will be of goals - more per game than at any Nations Cup in over three decades.

The trend across Europe may be for teams to play with one forward, but here few sides played without two out-and-out front men. With a wealth of attacking midfielders, that produced a wealth of goals, but it also played into Egypt"s hands.

Their 3-4-1-2 formation is predicated on two markers and a libero, but if there is no one for the markers to mark then the system can be unbalanced.

Not until Otto Pfister deployed a 4-2-3-1 against them in the final did they meet a team prepared to try to upset them tactically.

Against that they struggled to impose themselves, and were left to rely on a defensive error. Still, given the quality of the football they had played they probably deserved their success.

Great goals to grazing goats Highlights in Ghana

*BEST GOALKader Keita's strike for Ivory Coast in the semi-final comes close, but for sheer drama, Sulley Muntari' s last-minute screamer that gave Ghana a 2-1 victory over Guinea in the opening game.

*BEST FANSThe Ghanaians, who danced with colanders of hot coals on their heads deserve mention, but for their relentless enthusiasm in the face of their team"s mediocrity, the prize goes to the Beninois.

*BEST MOMENTThe moment when a CAF official realised that locals in Tamale were grazing their goats on the training pitch outside the stadium. It symbolised the problems the tournament had in integrating with locals.


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