Ghana face Morocco in the opening match of Group C at the 2021 AFCON later today
- No COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the Black Stars camp so far meaning all players are available for selection.
- Captain Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Kamaldeen Sulemana are some of the big names expected to return to the starting lineup, after all three missed Ghana’s 3-0 friendly loss to Algeria.
- Ajax starlet, Kudus Mohammed will miss the match, however, as he hasn’t joined the team in Cameroon yet.
- Jojo Wollacott is expected to return to goal having been deputised by Manaf Nurudeen and Lawrence Ati-Zigi in the Algeria friendly.
- Morocco are without Chelsea star, Hakim Ziyech who was left out of the squad for the AFCON.
- The Atlas Lions were still able to name a very strong squad, which includes PSG’s Achraf Hakimi, and Sevilla pair Munir El Haddadi and Yassine Bounou.
The journey to end Ghana’s 40-year wait for an African Cup of Nations title begins today in Cameroon as the Black Stars take on Morocco in their first group game of AFCON 2021.
The months of preparation for the tournament have been less than ideal – when the Black Stars secured their place at the tournament, a different head coach was in charge.
Qualification for the AFCON itself was not straightforward either as, after three straight wins, they failed to win either of their next two group games. A victory at home against Sao Tome and Principe ended any lingering doubts that the Black Stars would make it to the AFCON.
Since then the Black Stars have sacked CK Akonnor, re-appointed Milovan Rajevac and (barely) made it through to the playoffs of the World Cup Qualifiers.
The football hasn’t improved much though, with the Black Stars still scraping wins and draws against sides you would expect them to dominate.
While it might not be the best measure of the team as most of the regular starters were unavailable, the performance in the 3-0 loss to the defending African champions days before the start of the tournament was dire.
Ghanaians have been a bit hesitant in backing the national team in recent years but the celebrations, once the Stars earned that all-important win over South Africa in November, proved that there is still love for the team; a lot of it.
However, for the first time in a long while, the Black Stars go into this year’s AFCON not as one of the top favourites to win it. But that’s usually when the Stars thrive, when they are underestimated.
A big result against Morocco would be the perfect way to let the rest of Africa know that Ghana is still a massive force on the continent.
The big story that’s swirled around the Atlas Lions is the falling out between star player Hakim Ziyech and head coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
The Chelsea winger might not be in Cameroon with the rest of the squad but Morocco have a fantastic quad nonetheless.
They strolled through the qualifiers without losing a single game. They scored 20 goals and conceded just once.
Morocco actually have a longer AFCON drought than the Black Stars, having last won the trophy in 1976 and reached the final in 2004.
Despite consistently having strong teams over the years, the Moroccan national team has consistently disappointed at major tournaments – 2019’s Round of 16 exit is a case in point.
This year, they hope to go to better and have been set a target of a semi-final appearance. While that goal is definitely attainable, a good start against Ghana will make their task much easier.
WHAT THEY SAID
Black Stars head coach Milovan Rajevac:
“At the Afcon, we will have the ability to play against some of the big teams like Morocco and Gabon.
“We have the opportunity to get to know the teams even better. But time is on our side for more matches, and we will do much better at the Afcon.”
Black Stars captain, Andre Ayew:
“Teams have shown that they have progressed and can win a lot of games in a row. We didn’t win a lot of games in a row so it’s normal for everyone to see us as underdogs but we take it with a lot of determination and hunger to prove that Ghana will never die.
“Whatever happens, we will die till the end and we will die to the end and this jersey, we will make sure that anybody that wears it will sweat it all out.”
Morocco head coach Vahid Halilhodzic:
“We have to prepare well to face the three teams in the group: Ghana, Gabon, and the Comoros.
“Although Morocco are favorites to reach the second round, you have to prepare well and play with a lot of ambition and determination to go as far as possible.”
- The Black Stars have won five of their last 10 matches
- They have also lost three and drawn two in that time.
- Ghana have scored 10 goals in their last 10 matches and conceded 8
- The Black Stars have won three, drawn three and lost three of their opening matches at the AFCON since 2002
- Morocco have lost one match since a 3-2 loss to Gabon in a 2019 friendly.
- A penalty shootout defeat to Algeria in the Arab Cup last month ended Morocco’s run of 20 matches unbeaten in all competitions
- In their last 10 matches (in all competitions), Morocco have won nine, scoring 31 goals and conceding just three.
Head to head
- The Black Stars have won three of their 11 matches against Morocco
- Morocco have won five times, with three of the matches ending in draws
- Ghana have scored eight and conceded eight against the Atlas Lions in the 11 matches they’ve played
- The last time the teams played each other was a friendly last year, which the North African giants won 1-0
- The last competitive encounter came at the AFCON in 2008, with the Black Stars winning 2-0
Kick-Off: 16:00 GMT (4pm Ghana) (18:00 CAT)
Venue: Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, Yaounde (Cameroon)