AFCON 2013: Ghana ‘at home’ in South Africa, but not on sandy semifinal pitch
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa – Ghana’s players may change their opinion about South Africa being their “second home” when they see the sandy, bumpy field they have to play on in the African Cup of Nations semifinals this week.
Four-time African champion Ghana moves on from the lush surface in Port Elizabeth — where it has played all its games so far — to a ragged and much-criticized field in Nelspruit for Wednesday’s last-four game against Togo or Burkina Faso.
Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah has said that wherever his squad goes in South Africa it feels welcome and at home, following the achievements of 2010 when Ghana reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup. However, the Mbombela Stadium surface promises to be an uncomfortable experience for the skilful Ghanaians.
“The pitch doesn’t look good but at the end of the day we haven’t got much choice,” Appiah said Sunday. “You just have to go there, have a look at it and try and manage it.”
Seeking to end a 31-year wait for a title for one of Africa’s top teams, Appiah won’t have the advantage of previous experience at Mbombela at this tournament — unlike Ghana’s opponent.
Togo will have played two games there and Burkina Faso four ahead of the semifinal, leaving the Ghanaians to fly to the northern city on Monday and quickly try to get used to a field branded “a disgrace” and embarrassing for African football by Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
It was also described as “not good enough” for the tournament by the organizing Confederation of African Football.
“We’ve watched other teams playing on that pitch and that is one of our concerns,” Appiah said as his team looked ahead to a fourth straight semifinal appearance at the Cup of Nations. “Even the training pitch we are using at the moment (in Port Elizabeth), it looks even better than where we are going.”
The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium field in Port Elizabeth has helped Ghana’s slick passing game, allowing its team of quick and talented youngsters to play. Conversely, Burkina Faso has made the last eight for the first time on foreign soil by flooding the midfield and shutting down more expansive teams on the Nelspruit sand. Togo is adjusting to it, too.
That leaves Ghana playing catch-up ahead of the semifinal.
But Ghana will travel north boosted by the good feeling the team always has when it’s in South Africa, Appiah and captain Asamoah Gyan said, and might even pick up a few more supporters now that the host nation is out.
“Three years ago, we won a lot of hearts in South Africa,” Gyan said. “They (South African fans) should keep on praying for the Black Stars.” AP
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