On-song Guinea size up Ghana
© AFP

After losing their opening match at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations against Mali, Guinean players knew they had to come back strongly to stand a chance of staying in the competition beyond the group stage. They managed to do just that, and a 6-1 drubbing of first-timers Botswana has seen the Syli National play themselves right back into Group D contention. Guinea now control their destiny up against bigwigs Ghana in Franceville on Wednesday, where a win will see them into the quarter-finals - no matter the result when Mali play Botswana at the same time.

Veteran defender Bobo Balde, who is one of just two players over 30 in the squad, says the tournament dark horses are determined to advance to the quarter-finals. "The win over Botswana was good for us,” he said afterwards. “It was the big step we needed to stay in contention. We are delighted to beat Botswana because sometimes in football not every good effort is as richly rewarded as it was in this match."

Midfielder Ibrahima Traore agreed with the former Celtic mainstay, adding that they were happy to have their own fate in their hands, knowing that even a draw would be enough with a Mali loss. "We are a young team, but we believe we can go very far in this competition,” said the Stuttgart player. “We must first try to go beyond the first round and that means we have no choice but to beat a top team like Ghana."
 
Strong past, hopeful future
Guinea will be underdogs against the Black Stars although they have appeared at the African finals nine times. However, they have managed to progress past the group stage in just four of those, finishing second once: in 1976, when just eight teams took place. They did not lose a single match at that tournament, but because the last four was played on a round-robin basis, their two draws saw them finish a point behind Morocco.

We are a young team, but we believe we can go very far in this competition.
Guinea's Ibrahima Traore

French coach Michel Dussuyer, who returned for his second spell in charge of the team in 2010 after the team failed to qualify for the Cup of Nations finals in Angola, has his players believing in a brighter future. Belgium-based defender Ibrahima Diallo believes the country has a whole host of talented youngsters who can bring success. "Players like Sadio Diallo, Ibrahima Traore and Abdoul Razzagui Camara to mention just a few of them. We are particularly well equipped with wingers and offensive midfielders,” said the defender. “Guinea has to become a regular at the Africa Cup of Nations, as it was during the mid-2000s. I think with this promising young generation, we can be ambitious."

Of the six strikers that Dussuyer called up into his 23-man squad, four are 21 or younger, and 27-year-olds Ismael Bangoura and Larsen Toure can also still look forward to a good few years of international football.
 
Upsets give hope
After thrashing one of the tournament’s debutantes before facing off with the impressive 2010 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finalists, Diallo says that the tournament has further proven that the gap between top and bottom has shrunk in Africa. "Even for the so-called 'small' teams, there are better preparations. Most of the teams playing here in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are at their best, so everyone is more and more on the same level. That might sound crazy to say that after we beat Botswana 6-1, but I mean it,” he insisted. “When you see a team like Senegal, with so many great strikers, already out of the tournament, you tell yourself that nothing more is certain in football. I hope Guinea can take advantage from that, beat Ghana and play at least the quarter-finals.”

Traore, who scored the injury-time winner for Guinea against Nigeria that sealed qualification and knocked the Super Eagles out of contention for the finals, agreed with his team-mate. "It has been a good competition, played at a top level so far and even newcomers like Niger and Botswana have shown they are no pushovers." The National Elephants, who reached the last eight in 2004, 2006 and 2008 of the continental showpiece, are hoping to prove themselves against Ghana at Franceville Stadium. The Black Stars have begun the event with two victories, and are considered to be one of the tournament's favourites.