The destiny of the 2015 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) title is set to be decided between two giants of West African football after both Ghana and Ivory Coast clinically dispatched hosts Equatorial Guinea and Algeria respectively in the semi-finals.
The final sees the second and third highest-ranked African teams do battle in conditions that they will be familiar with. Both teams are blessed with an abundance of attacking riches, which should make for a free-flowing finish to the continental showpiece. The head-to-head record couldn’t be tighter, with each team having won 14 of the 39 meetings between the two since 1965.
After an indifferent start to the competition, in which they lost 2-1 to Senegal and had to come from behind to beat Bafana Bafana and stay in the reckoning, Ghana seem to have hit their straps and are peaking at the right time. The four-time champions are yet to concede a goal in the knockout stages, after eliminating Guinea and Equatorial Guinea 3-0.
Andre Ayew was immense as a stand-in for injured skipper Asamoah Gyan in the semi-final and may have to take the armband again in the final. The 25-year-old Marseille forward will be the man to watch in white on Sunday. Manager Avram Grant will be looking to the industrious number 10 to add to his overall Afcon tally of six goals against the Ivorians, after he surpassed the mark set by his legendary father Abedi Pele in his last outing.
The four-time champions are yet to concede a goal in the knockout stages, after eliminating Guinea and Equatorial Guinea 3-0
Despite enjoying a glorious golden generation of footballing talent, the Ivory Coast have never managed to add to their sole 1992 Afcon triumph. They endured a slow start to the tournament in their first Afcon tournament since the retirement of talisman Didier Drogba, with 1-1 draws against Guinea and Mali and only a tense victory over Cameroon by the slimmest of margins saw them progress. That win proved to be a turning point for the Elephants, as they saw off the continent’s number-one ranked team Algeria 3-1 in the quarterfinals without too much fanfare and repeated that scoreline against DR Congo in the semis.
Much has been made of the influence of Manchester City midfield behemoth Yaya Touré, but the Hervé Renard’s trump card might just be the tricky Roma attacker Gervinho. The former Arsenal man has made up for lost time after being sent off for a mindless punch in the opening encounter against Guinea, scoring vital goals against Algeria and the Congolese. If Gervinho scores the winner in the final and put an end to 24 years of heartache, he will become an instant legend.
Prediction: Ghana 3-2 Ivory Coast
This one is tough to call, contested between evenly matched sides that boast a wealth of experience playing in the knockout stages and against each other, but we think the Black Stars will just about edge the Elephants.
Venue: Estadio de Bata, Bata, Equatorial Guinea (41 000 capacity)
When: Sunday 9pm SA time
Channels: SABC1, SuperSport4