Can Nigeria regain their bragging rights over Ghana, or will the Black Stars repeat their 2008 quarter-final result?...West African arch-rivals Ghana and Nigeria clash in an AFCON semi-final on Thursday dubbed as “el-classico west Africana” by Goal.com’s Nigerian correspondent Lolade Adewuyi. But Liberian international Dulee Johnson, who plies his trade with Swedish club AIK Solna and stayed in Ghana for some time during the Liberian war, said the Ghanaians have what it takes to beat their rivals.
Goal.com: How would you describe this match?
Adewuyi: The match, like every encounter between Nigeria and Ghana, is going to be very interesting and very well contested. The countries have had a long history of healthy rivalry in sports, as well as other engagements, and every opportunity to get one up on the other is highly strived after, albeit in a fair and healthy manner. It is the opportunity to get bragging rights for the next two years. I still have my Ghanaian friends reminding me of the 2008 defeat and I feel it is the opportunity we have to reverse that trend. The bragging rights were ours for a long time before we lost them, and it is time they came back to us again.
Johnson: It’s going to be a showdown between the two west African giants. Both are going to the World Cup and will want to prove who is superior over the other. It will be interesting to watch, but unfortunately I’ll be on my way to Norway for a friendly against Rosenborg BK.
Goal.com: What do you think propelled the two teams to this stage of the tournament?
Adewuyi: The thought of falling off again in the quarter-finals served to push the team ahead. When they fell to Ghana in the quarters in 2008, it was seen as a great failure for a country that had never fallen short of the semi-final spots in the last 26 years. So definitely the quest to regain that record of old has seen the team push on to get this far.
Johnson: As someone who have lived in Ghana before, and started my football life in that country, I think it was their resolve and determination to move on in spite of difficulties. The Black Stars have not been that good in this tournament because most of their key players are injured, but the young players showed determination and zeal that have brought them this far.
Goal.com: Who are the players to watch in this game?
Adewuyi: Every player on the Ghanaian team is potentially dangerous, as we have seen from their last couple of games. Most importantly, I think Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew have the ability to win any game as well as Samuel Inkoom. His runs from the wings and long balls are capable of splitting defences. Kwadwo Asamoah has also shown his vision in this tournament, and the midfielder will be another member of the Black Stars that the Super Eagles need to watch out for.
Johnson: Every player on the field counts in a game. Sometimes you put all your hopes on a star and you will be surprised to see an unknown player taking your country high. Even a defender should be feared when it comes to goalscoring. But for the purpose of this game I would advise my Ghanaian brothers to guard against Peter Odemwingie and Obafemi Martins.
Goal.com: Would you have loved to see the two countries meet in the final instead of the semis?
Adewuyi: A final match would have been nothing short of a battle for the greatest prize in African football. Even as it is now I’ve dubbed it ‘el-classico west Africana’. Any game at this level involving Ghana and Nigeria is nothing short of a classic and this one will not be any different.
Johnson: That would have been a cracker. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I always love to see two west African countries, especially Ghana and Nigeria, come face to face in such international tournaments. Well, this is football and it is unfortunate one of them have to slip for the other to make it to the final.
Goal.com: What is going to be the outcome of this game?
Adewuyi: It's too close to call, but it sure possesses ingredients of a great game because of the final ticket at stake. Like every competitive game between the countries in the last decade, this one will be close, and the eventual winning margin will not be more than a goal, either 1-0 or 2-1 in favour of either team. Being a Super Eagles fan, I hope it ends in their favour.
Johnson: They both have a brighter chance to make it to the finals. The Nigerians have their stars but the Ghanaians don’t. That is an advantage to the Super Eagles and they need to make good use of that. If I had my way I would have given it to Ghana, but they need to do a lot more to achieve this feat. The Ghanaians have been able to eliminate the host nation Angola before their big crowd, so it should not be a major problem for them to carry the day.
Goal.com: What will be the difference between this match and the 2008 quarter-final between the two?
Adewuyi: There’s a big difference, a whole lot of difference, in the two matches. The circumstances are definitely different because the Black Stars will not be playing in front of a wholly partisan crowd as they did at Ghana 2008. Also, the Black Stars won that game in 2008 as a result of the input of some of their biggest stars; Michael Essien scored an equaliser, while Sulley Muntari’s run from the left resulted in Junior Agogo’s winning tap-in. These three players are missing from this present team and when the chips are down you need your star players to rise up to the occasion. We saw this in Ghana’s first game against Ivory Coast when Essien came in to shake up the game. Not taking anything away from this present team, I believe that they are capable of achieving great things as they have shown so far, but the Nigerian team will fancy beating them on match day.
Johnson: This match is going to be played on a neutral ground. Ghana had home advantage in their last Nations Cup. They won, and this is the time to really prove that they are real superiors over Nigeria on different soil. There are also new faces in this Ghana squad who have not tasted such a big clash against rivals Nigeria, so a lot lies on the shoulders of the few experienced ones to put their nation ahead. It will be an interesting game.
Goal.com: Why do you think your country will progress to the finals?
Adewuyi: I believe that the Super Eagles are very hungry for success and they have an opportunity this time around to make it that far, playing a Ghanaian side that they know very well. Sentiments aside, the Eagles have more experience than the young Ghanaians and if their experience counts on the night then they should safely book a place in the showpiece game.
Johnson: Don’t make me sad. Liberia is not in this tournament (laughs). Well since I am a Ghanaian for the purpose of this interview and because of my love for Ghana, I’d love to see them playing against either Egypt or Algeria. That would be a spectacle. But they need to focus on this game first before that.
Goal.com: Egypt and Algeria have been strong in this tournament. Why are you convinced your team can beat either of them to be next champions?
Adewuyi: I would want the Eagles to take each game as it comes, and definitely, when we get to the final, we can work on our tactics to beat the north Africans. At the moment, our focus should be on winning on Thursday night against Ghana.
Johnson: Anything can happen in football, and I believe Ghana can beat any of them if they keep their heads up. In any case if Ghana are unable to make it, I’ll be pleased to see Nigeria from west Africa beat either of the northern African sides. That is for sure, and the cup must come to west Africa.
Goal.com: If your team doesn't make it to the final, what makes you think they will pick up the third spot?
Adewuyi: As much as possible, the final ticket is our aim and not third place. We’ve had enough bronze medals to last a lifetime. Our focus is on the final ticket and anything other than that will be seen as a failure. So we are not looking at playing in the third place match. Not when we have the opportunity to win this tournament.
Johnson: With experience I would say it is disappointing to aim for the ultimate and lose. I don’t want to see that happen, but for the avoidance of doubt, I think my Ghanaian friends can manage a third spot if they are unable to make it to the final.