05 February, 2012

African Nations Cup Final Four

Yes, I admit that I enjoyed American Football today, Super Bowl Sunday, but in the rest of the world, Association Football was played as usual. Especially in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, co-hosts of the 2012 African Nations Cup.

Yesterday, powerful co-favorites Ivory Coast defeated co-host Equatorial Guinea 3-0. The game was lopsided, but the score didn't show it in the first half. Despite a dominating performance by Ivory Coast, the score was 1-0 at halftime, thanks to Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Danilo saving a Didier Drogba penalty kick in the first half with the score still 0-0. Drogba must have started taking the game seriously because he dribbled through the whole Equatorial Guinea defense for the game's first goal just before halftime. Drogba scored a header from a Yaya Toure free kick in the second half, then Yaya Toure scored a direct free kick to finish off the hosts 3-0. Next up for the Elephants will be surprising Mali.

Today, Mali edged co-hosts Gabon 5-4 in penalties after a 1-1 draw. Gabon took a lead in the 55th minute in front of their home crowd with a goal by Eric Mouloungui from a cross by Gabon's superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Aubameyang had previously struck the upright in the 28th minute, and so Gabon seemed poised for a semifinal appearance. But Mali's Cheick Tidiane Diabate scored the equalizer in the 84th minute, and there was no more scoring. In the shootout, all of five Mali's shooters scored, and four of Gabon's five shooters scored also. The fourth shooter for Gabon was their best player, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who finished with three goals in three games. Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite made the save.

In the other bracket, co-favorites Ghana advanced to the final four to set up a potential final match against Ivory Coast with a difficult 2-1 overtime win over Tunisia. Black Stars captain John Mensah scored first in the 10th minute, with a header off a corner kick that Andre Ayew flicked to him from the near post. Tunisia pulled even just before halftime with a header by Saber Khelifa off a cross from Zouheir Dhaouadi. There would be no more scoring in regulation. John Mensah was injured soon after halftime. In extra time, Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi mishandled a cross and dropped it right at the feet of Andre Ayew, who scored the game winner easily in the 101st minute. Things got rough after that. Tunisia's Aymen Abdennour was ejected for elbowing Ayew in the face in the 108th minute. If John Mensah cannot continue in the semifinal against Zambia, John Pantsil will presumably take over as captain, with Sulley Muntari as third choice.

The surprise semifinalist is probably Zambia, though they had an easy quarterfinal matchup yesterday against Sudan, which they won 3-0 after Sudan lost two starters to injury in the first half and also were reduced to ten men while the score was still 1-0 early in the second half. Zambia's Sunzu Stoppila headed in a corner kick in the 13th minute, but then in the 64th minute, Sudan defender Ali Saif Eldin fouled Zambia star Rainford Kalaba in the penalty area. It was Eldin's second yellow card and he was ejected. Zambia captain Christopher Katongo's penalty was blocked by Sudan goalkeeper Elhadi Akram, but Katongo put the rebound in the net to double the lead. Zambia dominated the rest of the game and James Chamanga scored the third goal in the 86th minute. This is Zambia's first semifinal appearance in 16 years, since 1996.

And, we've got highlights for you!
Here are the three goals of the Ghana/Tunisia thriller earlier today:

credit: ZeeBooTV

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