Black Stars coach Avram Grant admits that The Eagles of Mali are a quality side who are difficult to beat, but his side will do whatever is needed to secure victory today when the two sides clash at the Stade du Port-Gentil with the Ghanaians eyeing a ticket to the quarter-finals.
A win for Grant’s side in this afternoon’s Group D second game will guarantee them maximum points and a place at the next stage of the competition, having defeated Uganda 1-0 in their group opener last Tuesday. However, Mali who held Egypt to a pulsating 1-1 draw will also be hungry for a win to brighten their chances at reaching the last eight from Group D which also has six-time African champions, Egypt.
In spite of Ghana’s record of defeating the Malians at the group stage of the 2012 and 2013 tournaments, Grant maintains that the Eagles remain a credible threat that his side must find an antidote to.
“Mali is a good team. We played against them in a friendly in Paris which ended 1-1. They are well organised and hard to beat, but we need to concentrate on what to do to get a win,” the Ghana coach said at the pre-match press conference yesterday.
In their scoreless draw against the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Malians played a fast-paced and physical game which Ghana’s Israeli trainer hopes to neutralise.
“We know they are very physical and a very good side but we are not so weak physically. We will play at our own strength.
“We are going to show in this tournament that we have the quality and character to win games,” he assured.
Grant is unlikely to make major changes to the side that beat the Cranes last Tuesday, except for the absence of injured Baba Rahman, who has returned to his German base for treatment.
There are strong indications that Frank Acheampong, who replaced Rahman in the first half of last Tuesday’s game, will be handed a starting role today.
Grant kept his cards close to his chest but observations at training suggest the RSC Anderlecht youngster is the best candidate for the left-back role.
“We are not happy with the situation because Baba is one of our best players. We will miss him as a player and as a person, but the player
who will replace him [Rahman] will do a good job.”
Despite Ghana’s history of winning group clashes against Alain Giresse’s side at the AFCON, the Malians have found a way to progress into the knockout phase and exact revenge in the third-place match.
But those records may not count much in today’s encounter as the conditions are different this time.
The Stars are traditionally slow starters and warm up into a competition, and it could be logically expected that Asamoah Gyan and his teammates will raise their game to reflect their appetite for a place in the quarter-finals.
Against Uganda, Grants admits his charges played a good first half where they created a lot of chances and showed character in the second half to hold on to their first half lead. But today they canot afford to take their foot off the accelerator as the talented Malians will be fighting hard to avoid defeat.
Last Thursday, there were fitness concerns over Andre Ayew and right-back Harrison Afful but yesterday evening the two players participated fully in training which suggested they will be ready to face the Malians.