Ghana keen to come of age
© AFP

Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan, who was the goal-scoring hero in the quarter-final win over Angola, said he expects a tough game against Nigeria when the two rivals meet at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals in Luanda on Thursday afternoon.

The injury-hit Black Stars camp got a reprieve on Wednesday as the team’s technical staff was given a green light on Gyan, who looked likely to miss the last-four clash after the win over the hosts on Sunday. Happy to be fit, Gyan said that while beating the Super Eagles won’t be an easy task, he expects the Black Stars to triumph and move one step closer to winning their fifth continental championship.

There are a lot of new players, but we managed to build a competitive spirit in the team, and we now have an excellent atmosphere in our team.
Ghana coach Milovan Rajavec

“It’s a big game for us. We all know what is at stake. We are all aware that Nigeria are a tough opponent, but we are ready and prepared for them," Gyan told FIFA.com. "We'll need to stick to the game plan that the coach has mapped out for us. We defeated them before, and we will do it again,” he said referring to the 2-1 quarter-final victory the team enjoyed on home soil at the last Cup of Nations.

Gyan, who plies his trade for French outfit Rennes, remains one of Milovan Rajavec’s crucial attacking threats as the coach has been left to deal with a spate of injuries. The Serb however said he wouldn’t dwell on the team’s bad luck in the fitness department, especially at such a late date. “It’s out of my hands really. What can I do about it?” he said. “We have a game to prepare for, and we have to focus on that game. We need to think about our strategy on Thursday, so what is the point of worrying about things like injuries.”

Life without Essien
Whether he's worrying about it or not, Ravejac has been forced to improvise and field an experimental, youthful side throughout the tournament, utilising many of the players that triumphed at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt this past October. While he is aware that facing an experienced Nigerian side will be daunting for his ever-improving charges, he is hoping that Ghana will continue from where they left off last Sunday when they showed pluck by maintaining Gyan’s early strike against an in-form host nation driven on by massive support.

Ghana have been minus some of their top players, with the loss of Chelsea star and inspirational maestro, Michael Essien, during the tournament yet another blow to them. Rajevac is quick to admit that the absence of Essien has been and will continue to be felt, but he believes he has assembled a team that is still capable of taking Ghana’s achievements further in this tournament. “We are missing Essien a lot. That is why our game is a little bit different,” he explained. “He is an important player in our midfield and an influential player on and off the field. He is a special player for us.

"There are a lot of new players, but we managed to build a competitive spirit in the team, and we now have an excellent atmosphere in our team. If you look at our team, we have a lot of young players coming through the system. With every victory we achieve, we get closer to fulfilling our goals,” said the 56-year-old.

With only four teams left, Ghana have proven themselves every bit worthy of consideration to win the whole thing. After starting Group B with an unconvincing 3-1 loss to Côte d'Ivoire, they rebounded with a pair of disciplined 1-0 wins, over Burkina Faso in the opening stage before impressing against Angola. But Rajevac warned that it is still early days for people to pencil in this emerging Ghana side as favourites. “I don’t want to say we are favourites now, I think that will be unfair to my team,” he said.

The winners of Thursday’s match progress to the Nations Cup final in Luanda on Sunday to play Egypt or Algeria, who meet later in the day in Benguela.