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Sports

Curse talk clouds Ghana's Cup of Nations showdown

media Ghana coach Avram Grant (right) and skipper Asamoah Gyan are trying to steer Ghana to a first Cup of Nations title since 1982 Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Six consecutive semi-finals. Two finals. No trophy. That’s the impressive but galling resume of Ghana’s national football team since 2008. It’s the history the current constellation of Black Stars are fighting as they take on Cameroon in Franceville on Thursday night.

“I wouldn’t call it a curse,” said Ghana’s assistant coach Maxwell Konadu on the eve of the clash. “The players know that they have to do something different to get to the final and win the trophy. We can’t talk about the final before we get there. We have a game against Cameroon who are a side we respect. They’re a side that has come far. We have to do the right thing and take the game seriously.”

Victory over Hugo Broos’s well drilled tyros will lead Ghana into a third final since 2010. But it will be against Egypt, a bête noire for Ghana of late. Hector Cuper’s side beat them 2-0 in October in a qualifier for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and 1-0 on 25 January in Port-Gentil in the final game in Group D.

That win sent Egypt top of the group and the Pharoahs have continued to Sunday’s showdown in Libreville after disposing of Morocco and Burkina Faso.

Ghana’s experience was in full evidence in their 2-1 triumph over Democratic Republic of Congo in Oyem in the quarter-final and that same savoir-faire is expected to come to the fore against Cameroon whose squad includes 14 players featuring in their first Cup of Nations.

“We’ve got to the semi-finals over the years not by chance but by the hard work that the team has been putting into this competition,” Konadu added. “The players are always willing to do something for their nation. They’re willing to give everything for every minute and, of course, the one thing we all dream of is winning the trophy which we haven’t been able to do for so long."

Last crown eight years ago

Ghana’s last crown came in 1982 in Libya where they beat the hosts on penalties after the match finished 1-1. Thirty-five years ago, the Cup of Nations was an eight-team tournament. It expanded to 12 sides for the 1992 edition in Senegal and grew to 16 for the 1996 competition in South Africa.

Since then Egypt have been the most successful nation with four titles, followed by Cameroon with two. They stand in Ghana’s path to glory.

“Game after game we have been improving,” said Konadu. “Once that starts happening, you can expect something better. We just have to make sure that the game against Cameroon is better than the one against Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Where is Gyan?

Ghana’s main concern as they approach their semi-final is the fitness of skipper Asamoah Gyan. He limped off during the first half of the game against Egypt and did not feature in the last eight win over DRC on 29 January. A decision over his inclusion will be made just before kick-off, said Konadu.

“It will be a difficult game,” said Ghana midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, who at 26 is playing in his fifth Cup of Nations since 2010. “Cameroon are an energetic team with lots of young players. They had senior players who didn’t want to come but the ones who are here have proved themselves. They’ll have nothing to lose while the semi-finals is nothing new for Ghana. We will be prepared for it.”

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