All eyes were on the Zebras when they landed in Gabon yesterday for their maiden appearance at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). It has been a fairytale campaign for the Zebras as they were the first side to qualify for the tournament.
Their qualification was made more special when they were chosen the Team of the Year at the Annual CAF Awards which were held in Ghana in December.
Having arrived in the West African country three days before their opening Group D match against the Black Stars of Ghana, coach Stanley Tshosane and his troops know that the time of talking is over and it’s down to business.
On Tuesday, all eyes will be on the Zebras as the rest of the continent wants to find out if indeed the Zebras are there on merit or not. Tshosane and his technical team must come up with a line-up which will make the nation proud come the end of 90 minutes.
The sad news is that Tshosane will have do without captain Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane who is serving a one-match suspension and speedy winger Joel ‘16′ Mogorosi who got injured in training on Wednesday. The injury has ruled him out of the tournament.
But the technical team has players who have played at a higher level. On paper, the Zebras do not have the qualities to compete with the Black Stars but football has proven that anything can happen. The fact that the Zebras are among 16 nations which have qualified shows that they deserve respect. Ghana are currently ranked second in Africa after Ivory Coast with Botswana placed on the 21st spot.
Zebras’ defender Tshepo ‘Talk Talk’ Motlhabankwe says they are under no pressure to impress anyone in their opening game against Ghana. Motlhabankwe believes that they have prepared well enough to compete. “The boys have put their faith in God and with his guidance we can beat Ghana. There is no doubt that Ghana is a big team but once we go into the field, that respect goes away. We’ve come here to fight,” says Motlhabankwe.
On the injury of Mogorosi, Motlhabankwe did not hide his disappointment at losing such a quality teammate.
“His (Mogorosi) injury scared us. It’s not good to lose a special member of the team considering that there are few days before we start our games. He is a man and needs to be strong,” he pointed out.
Ghana arrived in Gabon on Friday after weeks of intensive training in Rustenburg, South Africa. Having won the tournament four times, they have made it clear that they want to end 30 years of hunger. The last time Ghana lifted the African trophy was in a tournament which was hosted by Libya. Black Stars’ enterprising midfielder Sulley Muntari says that they will not wilt under expectations and he is adamant that they will not have excuses if they fail to win the tournament.
Ghana and Ivory Coast are clear favourites to lift the cup when the tournament ends on February 12.
“It is not negative pressure because since 2008 we’ve been approaching there. The whole nation is behind us and now we’re feeling it more,” says Muntari.
It is believed that Serbian coach Goran Stevanovic has brought a new lease of life to the Black Stars’ camp hence they are oozing with confidence going into the tournament. Their camp has also been boosted by the recovery of key striker Asamoah Gyan from injury. The former Sunderland striker will be available for selection for the opening game against the Zebras.
The truth has to be said, Ghana are the favourites going into the game against Zebras but it’s not going to be a walk in the park.