- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) - Neutral fans may already be licking their lips over the possibility of an Ivory Coast vs. Ghana final at the African Cup of Nations.

In the battle of the strikers it would be Wilfried Bony vs. Asamoah Gyan. Playmakers: Gervinho vs. Christian Atsu. Coaches: Herve Renard vs. Avram Grant.

But hold on.

The African Cup has a tendency for the underdogs to surprise, and Congo and host Equatorial Guinea may yet spoil the party for one or both of the big guys.

Here are some things to know ahead of the African Cup semifinals:


IVORY COAST-GHANA DECIDER?: Neutral fans would likely love it. It would pit some of Africa’s premier talent against each other, and give both teams a chance to end a long drought when it comes to the continental title. Ivory Coast and Ghana have probably been Africa’s best teams over the last few years, but it is 25 years since either won.

Both know the danger of an underdog. Ivory Coast lost the 2012 final to big outsider Zambia, among its surprise losses in two finals, a semifinal, and two quarterfinals in the last five editions. Ghana also fell to Zambia three years ago, in the semifinals, and lost to Burkina Faso in a big shock in the last four in 2013.

That means Ivory Coast’s semi on Wednesday against Congo, and Ghana’s on Thursday against Equatorial Guinea are not foregone conclusions.

QUIETEN DOWN: Bizarrely, Equatorial Guinea’s hopes may take a blow by playing its semifinal in the capital city, Malabo. Equatorial Guinea has played every one of its games in front of rowdy home fans at the 35,000-seat stadium in Bata, the biggest venue at the tournament. That surge of home support has been a major factor in the team making the semis for the first time. But the stadium in Malabo holds around 15,000 people, and that means the noise might go down a notch, something that’ll definitely suit the Ghanaians.

BACK IN THE BIG TIME: That’s Congo. Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country is back in the semifinals for the first time in 17 years, and could make the African Cup final for the first time since the last of its two continental titles in 1974. Congo, once known as Zaire, used to be a powerhouse of African football. It’s returned under the guidance of home coach Florent Ibenge, the only African coach left in the tournament.

TOO MANY OPTIONS: Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard says one of his big problems has been keeping his array of star attacking players happy, especially when many of them have to sit on the bench. Renard has gone with in-form Wilfried Bony as his No. 1 forward, and the likes of Max Gradel, Seydou Doumbia and Salomon Kalou all have to work around that.

“I can’t play with all of them. It’s impossible,” Renard said. “Although the players think we should play with all of them.”

STAT PACK: The African Cup has produced 61 goals in 28 games, five successful penalty kicks, two missed penalties, 74 yellow cards, and two red cards. Ghana is the top-scoring team with seven, while host Equatorial Guinea is the best defensive team still in the tournament, conceding just twice in four games. Algeria has the most yellow cards with nine.

The Confederation of African Football also says the goal average is 2.17 per game, up on the 2.15 goals per game at the same stage at the last tournament in South Africa. However, it’s below the goal average for the five tournaments before 2013.


Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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