Dark day after Stars fall

George Byron

THERE was fighting talk coming from the Ghana soccer camp in Port Elizabeth after they failed to live up to their billing as being one of the hot favourites to lift the Orange Africa Cup of Nations.

The Black Stars ended a disappointing fourth after they slumped to a 3-1 defeat against Mali in the bronze-medal match played at a rain-soaked Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday night.

After their defeat, Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said he felt he deserved some praise despite not living up to expectations.

There is now speculation of Appiah being axed by the Ghana Football Association, with the country still seeking success after a 31-year wait to lift Africa’s most coveted trophy.

“I have had this team for almost 10 months now and I have introduced 11 young players into this competition,” Appiah said.

“When you are building a team, I mean a national team, it takes time to be 100% sure.

“I would say the players have done so well by getting to the semifinals.

“I don’t expect that when you are building a team, you can suddenly think you can win everything. I personally believe that they have done well.”

All eyes will now be on Appiah’s next assignment when he prepares Ghana for their crucial 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Sudan at home in March.

Resilient Mali made sure they would not return home empty-handed when they beat Ghana to clinch the bronze medal in an entertaining showdown in front of 19242 fans who were kept on the edge of their seats throughout the contest.

Still hurting badly after their midweek semifinal defeat against Nigeria, the talent-laden Mali side bounced back in style.

As had been expected, the encounter turned out to be an open, attacking affair as both teams attempted to end the tournament on a high note and claim the medals on offer.

While some argue that these third-place playoff matches have little significance, Mali and Ghana brought the curtain down on the Afcon action in Port Elizabeth with a flourish.

After absorbing considerable early pressure, Mali broke down the right flank and lively Adama Tamboura delivered an inch-perfect cross that was headed home by a diving Mahamadou Samassa in the 21st minute to give his team a 1-0 lead.

With the rain falling, both teams continued to throw everything into attack and the noisy crowd were kept on edge as the action swung from end to end. Mali went 2-0 ahead shortly after halftime when inspirational skipper Seydou Keita netted after a precision pass from the hard-working Ousmane Coulibaly.

In the 57th minute, Ghana had a chance to pull a goal back when referee Otogo Arnaud ruled that Mali defender Salif Coulibaly had handled the ball in his area.

However, the normally cool-headed Mubarak Wakaso blasted the ball over the bar to the relief of the Mali fans in the crowd.

Ghana pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute when Kwadwo Asamoah netted with a spectacular long-range shot.

The goal ensured that the final minutes were tense for the Mali side who had been looking relatively comfortable until then.

The Black Stars also had an appeal for a late penalty turned down as they piled on the pressure in the final moments.

Mali sealed the game in stoppage time when Sigamary Diarra netted to earn his team a notable win over their African archrivals.

Mali had been hoping history would repeat itself when they took to the field against their old rivals in Port Elizabeth.

Last year, Ghana defeated Mali 2-0 in the first round of the 2012 Afcon championship only for the losers to bounce back and win the third-place play-off by the identical score.

That victory came through a Cheick Tidiane Diabate brace.

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