African Cup of Nations: Ghana fancied for fifth title
After knocking on the door in recent years, Ghana look a value bet to claim outright glory in the 2017 African Cup of Nations.
The Black Stars lifted this trophy for the fourth time back in 1982 but have been kept waiting for more success. However, a consistent run of bold showings has seen them finish runners-up in 2010 and 2015, third in 2008 and beaten semi-finalists in 2012 and 2013, so 9/1 they go all the way this time is tempting.
Throw in reaching the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and being far from disgraced in a tough group in Brazil three years ago, when they drew with Germany and were just edged out by Portugal and the USA, and Ghana’s international record is rock solid.
Former Chelsea boss Avram Grant provides shrewd leadership from the touchline and 31-year-old striker Asamoah Gyan can lead from the front on the field of play, having bagged 48 goals in 97 appearances for his country. Helping out in attack will be West Ham’s Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan, currently with Aston Villa, to give Ghana an experienced platform going forward.
Udinese’s Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Christian Atsu of Newcastle are other proven performers in midfield and there are few concerns about a defence which conceded just two goals in six qualifiers for this tournament. Other teams may travel to Gabon with more flair and higher-profile players, but the Black Stars can have the edge in organisation and determination.
Defending champions Ivory Coast only just got the better of Ghana on penalties in the final two years ago and have to regroup after losing the Toure brothers through international retirement.
The likes of Wilfried Bony, Salomon Kalou, Serge Aurier, Wilfried Zaha and Eric Bailly should give them enough class to cruise through a relatively weak group but they have flattered to deceive in the latter stages too often in the past for our liking.
Senegal are sure to attract plenty of support at 11/2 with Sadio Mane having been in such fine form for Liverpool this season and 12/1 for the attacking midfielder to be the tournament’s top scorer will also be popular with punters.
The best the Lions of Teranga have managed in the past has been second place in 2002 and they are in a strong section with Algeria, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. However, a useful supporting cast which includes Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate and Mohamed Diame of Newcastle, should allow Mane to get forward.
Home advantage will give Gabon every chance of improving on their exploits of reaching the quarter-finals in 2012 and all eyes will be on highly-rated Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The 27-year-old has been tearing up defences in the Bundesliga and the Champions League this season, with 20 goals in 20 games in those competitions, so he looks a worthy favourite at 6/1 for Golden Boot glory here.