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On course for a dream final

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All of footballing Africa, and millions of other soccer fans besides, must be holding their breath in anticipation of a “dream final” of the African nations Cup next Sunday. That dream pits the two favourites in the final stages being played in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).{{more}} But the dream is not yet manifest, for there are semi-final encounters facing both of these highly-fancied teams.

Each, having got past the quarter-final stage, must now meet less-fancied, but nevertheless very determined opponents in Wednesday’s semi-finals. They will both be wary of the record in recent times of many favourites in this competition flunking when picked to go all the way. In fact, in the 2012 version, some African powerhouses, notably Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt, have not even qualified for the final stages, and even there, the ‘big guns’ of Senegal failed to fire, their team being ignominiously dumped out after defeats in all three preliminary matches.

By contrast, Cote d’Ivoire, after a tentative start, has gotten better and better, winning all its matches so far, the latest an emphatic 3-0 thumping of co-hosts, Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-final. The star-studded combination of Didier Drogba (two goals in the quarter-final win), Yaya Toure, Zokora and Gervinho has started to click, an ominous sign for prospective opponents. But don’t rule out Mali, quietly progressing in a penalty shoot-out over the other co-hosts, Gabon. Nerves will be an important factor in this clash on Wednesday.

The other semi-final pits Ghana, rated only behind Ivory Coast to take the Cup, against rapidly improving Zambia. The Zambians were the first semi-final qualifiers, beating Sudan and even in the face of a meeting with the Ghanaian ‘Black Stars’ have warned “we are not afraid of any team”. But they will certainly have their work cut out against opponents determined not only to reach the final, but to conquer and claim hegemony in West Africa as well as in the whole continent.

The Nations Cup concludes with the third-place match for semi-final losers on Saturday and the big final in Libreville, Gabon a day later.

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