By Mark Gleeson
Ghana and Ivory Coast can shift the focus of attention from crowd disorder to footballing skills when the two neighbours meet in the final of the African Nations Cup on Sunday.
Ghana’s 3-0 semi-final victory over hosts Equatorial Guinea in Malabo on Thursday was overshadowed by violence, 36 people being injured, one seriously.
The game was halted for more than 30 minutes near the end as objects were thrown from the stands at the opposing team, officials and fans by locals angry at the demise of their team.
Ghana and Ivory Coast have followed remarkably similar paths to the final, starting the tournament slowly with new-look teams as they tried to forget disappointing 2014 World Cup campaigns.
The Ivorians spluttered through the Nations Cup qualifiers without retired talisman Didier Drogba.
New coach Herve Renard said he risked alienating members of the squad by accusing some of his better players of pulling in different directions.
He has also still to rid himself of the scowl that has been permanently etched on his face from the start of the three-week tournament.
Renard did, though, drop his guard briefly after Wednesday’s 3-1 semi-final win over Democratic Republic of Congo to purr about strike pair Wilfried Bony and Gervinho and midfielder Yaya Toure.
The Frenchman is hoping to become the first man to win the Nations Cup with two different countries, having led Zambia to the title three years ago.
Ghana’s squad were pilloried for a World Cup strike over money and their problems in Brazil were exacerbated by the expulsion from the camp of senior players Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng because of indiscipline.
“We realise we owe the fans and we have worked hard to win back their trust and affection,” said captain Asamoah Gyan.
Both teams are expected to take an attacking approach to the game and have match-winning quality in abundance. Defensive frailties at either end also add to an intriguing contest.