BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AFP) – Ivory Coast face what is likely to be their sternest test of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations when they tackle Ghana Sunday in what has been dubbed the ‘dream’ final.
Two of Africa’s football powerhouses are in dire need of a continental trophy after long, frustrating waits.
Ghana have won the Cup of Nations four times but their last conquest was 33 years ago, while the Ivorians only triumph was in 1992 and, ironically, it was at the expense of Ghana.
Ivory Coast beat their west African neighbours 11-10 on penalties after 120 minutes of action did not produce any goals in Dakar.
In the absence of defending champions Nigeria and record seven-time winners Egypt, two of the continent’s most consistent teams will clash for African football’s biggest prize.
Both started this tournament slowly – the Ivorians needed to win their last group game against Cameroon to reach the knockout stage, while Ghana fought back from an opening-day loss to Senegal to make the final.
Former Nigeria skipper Sunday Oliseh, who won the Cup of Nations in 1994 and came close to another title in 2000, has tipped Ivory Coast to win, but also warned Ghana are capable of causing an upset.
“Ivory Coast is clear favourite to win the final,” said Oliseh on his website.
“Player for player, Ivory Coast has better individuals than Ghana and they are playing better as a team now, especially when not in possession.
“Ghana are quite impressive and, with (Christian) Atsu and the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan), are becoming unpredictable and champion material.
“They go into this final as underdogs but with less pressure, unlike Ivory Coast, due to the fact that not many would have bet on them coming this far when the tournament kicked off.”
The “new generation” Black Stars have flourished under former Chelsea manager Avram Grant and displayed strong character throughout this campaign.
“The boys do not give up, they have fought till the end of every match,” remarked skipper Asamoah Gyan, who remains an injury doubt after sustaining an abdominal injury in the quarter-final against Guinea.
Ivory Coast, on the other hand, have been tactically shrewd and well organised when they do not have the ball.
They have been able to combine talented stars like Yaya Toure and Gervinho with hard-working team-mates.
Gervinho said they are gunning for history against Ghana.
“It has been a long time since we have had a final between Ghana and Ivory Coast and we want to write our history too. This is our chance and we hope to take it,” the Roma forward told AFP.
“We are very motivated. From the beginning of this competition, we said we have six games to play — we have played five and there is one remaining.”
Tallo Gadji Celi was born in 1992, the year his uncle Gadji Celi led the Elephants to Cup of Nations glory and now hopes he can write his own name into history.
The Bastia striker said victory in the final will be dedicated to Ivorian legend Didier Drogba, who retired from international football last year.
“Didier Drogba, our model, our strength, we love you. It will also be for you if we make it,” said the player who wears the No.11 shirt worn with distinction by Drogba.