Black Stars are wary of Niger

George Byron

GHANA will remain in Port Elizabeth for Saturday’s soccer quarterfinals of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations if they beat Niger to finish top of Group B at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium tonight.

After stuttering to a 2-2 draw in their opening match against Congo, Ghana started to show the swagger that marked them out as potential champions when they beat Mali 1-0 on Thursday.

While Ghana and Niger slug it out in Port Elizabeth tonight, Congo face Mali in Durban in the other deciding game in Group B which will be played at the same time.

Depending on what happens in Durban, the Black Stars might not even have to beat Niger to top the group.

The Group B standings ahead of the final matches: Ghana (4), Mali (3), DR Congo (2), and Niger (1).

Both final Group B matches, which kick off at 7pm, are played simultaneously to avoid teams playing for a particular result.

Ghana and their devoted fans have taken a liking to Port Elizabeth and no doubt their coach Kwesi Appiah will be happy to extend his stay in the city by another five days for Saturday’s quarterfinal.

But, even though the Black Stars are favoured to win, they are taking nothing for granted against a Niger side quite capable of pulling off an upset.

In their opener against Congo, the Black Stars surrendered a 2-0 lead, and that inexplicable lapse of concentration was totally out of character for one of Africa’s best teams.

Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan has warned his team against complacency ahead of what should be an explosive showdown.

“Although we had a difficult game against Mali we came with the mentality of winning no matter what. We needed a win in this game,” he said.

“Now we are facing Niger. They played a very good game against Mali. They lost their game in the last stages. We are not here to underrate them.

“We will make sure we take it game by game and make sure we qualify. We’ve got four points. We need more points to qualify to the next stage.”

Meanwhile, Ghana coach Appiah has praised his players for their improved tactical discipline in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Mali.

Mubarak Wakaso cooly slid home a 38th minute penalty and that improved their chances of making it to the knockout stage.

“Tactically, the team was much more disciplined and there was no loss of concentration during the game,” Appiah said after the Mali victory. “I will say that we have still got much to offer and can do much better than what they did today.

Goal-scorer Wakaso is out of Niger game after being suspended for lifting his shirt while celebrating his goal during the win over Mali.

Coach Appiah will now have to dig deep into his squad to find a replacement for the hard tackler who has been so good for the Black Stars at the Nations Cup.

Ghana are aiming to end a 31-year wait for an African title in South Africa, having previously won the competition on four occasions.

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