The Black Stars of Ghana will kick off their 2021 African cup of Nations campaign with a game against Morocco on Monday. We bring you a preview of the match, with each team’s recent form and key players as well as what the game-changing moments could be.
Ghana and Morocco have met on 11 previous occasions with the most recent being in June 2021 when the two sides met in an international friendly at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, Rabat. Jamad El Yamiq was the scorer of that lone goal in the 68th-minute that inflicted the defeat on the Ghanaians.
Prior to that, the sides have met both in World Cup qualifiers and at Africa Cup of Nations, two times in qualifiers and three times in the tournament proper. Overall, the Black Stars have won two, lost two and drawn one of the five meetings in Africa competitions. And of the total 11 meetings, Ghana has three wins, three draws and five defeats.
The most recent meeting between the two sides in the tournament came in CAN 2008 when Ghana was the host of the tournament. Morocco was housed in the same group as host Ghana alongside Guinea and Namibia. Ghana emerged 2-0 winners against the Atlas Lions with goals from Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari in the first half condemning the North Africans to a second straight defeat in the group that resulted in their exit from the tournament at the group stages.
Andre Ayew is the only player from that victorious Ghana squad that will turn out for Ghana on Monday against the Atlas Lions. He will captain the side for the second tournament in a row after doing so in Egypt in 2019 where they exited in the Round of 16 after suffering a penalty shootout defeat to Tunisia.
Presently, the two teams boost two exciting young squads with Ghana’s squad being the youngest it has presented at the tournament since 2010 when they lost at the finals to Egypt in Angola while being coached by the current coach Milovan Rajevac.
Ghana has had success at the AFCON more than the North Africans but much of the country’s success traces back to the 1960s. The last time the West African nation laid claim to the coveted trophy was in 1982 with their most recent best performances being final defeats to Egypt in 2010 and Ivory Coast in 2015.
Morocco’s success at the tournament is hugely dwarfed by the West Africans, the North Africans have only lifted the trophy once and that was four decades ago in 1976 in Ethiopia after topping the final round-robin group with four points ahead of Guinea in second and Nigeria and Egypt in third and fourth respectively. The furthest they have gone since that historic win is a first runner-up position in 2004, a tournament the Black Stars were absent.
Road to Cameroon
Ghana is in the tournament after topping the qualifying Group C ahead of Sudan, South Africa and Sao Tome and Principe. The Black Stars won four of their matches while losing one and drawing the other. Ghana scored nine goals and conceded three in the qualifiers with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Kudus Mohammed each scoring two. The rest were scored by Thomas Partey, Nicholas Opoku and Baba Abdul Rahman. Six of the goal scorers are in the squad for the tournament with only Nicholas Opoku missing the train to Cameroon. Four of them are set to be heavily involved from the start and are expected to feature tomorrow against Morocco.
Morocco on the other hand also advanced to the finals after topping Group E ahead of Mauritania, Burundi and Central African Republic. They won four and drew two of the six matches played. Hakim Ziyech was the country’s top scorer in the qualifiers with three goals. Youssef En-Nesyri and Achraf Hakimi both scored two goals each while Zakaria Aboukhlal, Noussair Mazraoui and Munir El Haddadi Mohammed all scored one goal each. The Atlas Lions conceded just one goal in the six matches while scoring 10.
The Black Stars have won three of their last five matches, drawing one and losing one. The most recent of such was a pre-AFCON international friendly against defending African champions Algeria. The Black Stars suffered a three-nil defeat against the Desert Foxes on Wednesday in Doha. Within that period, Ghana scored six goals and conceded the same number of goals.
The North African side have won all their last five matches with a staggering 18 goals scored and only one conceded. They won all the matches by a scoreline of at least three goals. The last match played before this tournament by the Moroccans was a World Cup qualifying, Group I encounter against Guinea which they won by three goals to nil.
Ghana’s coach Milovan Rajevac will be leading Ghana to his second AFCON championship after tasting the first in 2010 where he lost the finals by a lone goal to Egypt. He fielded a youthful side in that tournament, a squad that is largely similar to this current squad in terms of experience and age. He has coached other national teams but his only other coaching job in Africa is Algeria in 2016 where he resigned after two games. He implemented a one-goal project in the Angola 2010 tournament which was considered a very successful one after he paraded a squad full of players from the 2009 U-20 World Cup-winning team. He is notable for the performance of the Black Stars in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where Ghana exited in the quarter-finals. Since his return to the team, he has managed to guide Ghana through to the next round of the 2022 World Cup African qualifiers. He believes in winning than the style of play, thus his famous one-goal project which he ensures the team defends well after scoring the first goal.
Vahid Halihodzic has a wealth of experience in African football, both at the club and international level. He led Ivory Coast to the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola where the team exited at the quarter-final stage after losing to Algeria. He was however fired after the tournament, denying him the opportunity to lead the Elephants to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, a tournament he led the team in the qualification. He has also had a stint with Algeria and led them to the AFCON in 2013 where they exited in the group stages and the 2014 World Cup where they lost to Germany in the Round of 16, their best ever performance in the tournament. He has been with Morocco since 2019 and has won 17 of the 24 matches played, six draws and one defeat.
Players to Consider
Key players to watch from each team will include Thomas Partey, Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Kamaldeen Sulemana as well as Leicester City’s Daniel Amartey who is expected to form part of the defensive quartet to be deployed by coach Milovan. If Mohammed Kudus makes it to the tournament, he would be another big weapon for the Black Stars including youngster Fatawu Issahaku.
The Moroccans will be without the services of Hakim Ziyech whom the coach dropped for the World Cup qualifiers in September citing “unacceptable behaviour” as the reason. However, they will have Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Youssef En-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi.
Predicted Line Up
Ghana XI: Jojo Wollacott, Baba Rahman, Daniel Amartey, Alexander Djiku, Andy Yiadom, Kamaldeen Sulemana, Thomas Partey, Mubarak Wakaso, Andre Ayew, Fatawu Issahaku, Jordan Ayew.
Morocco XI: Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, Adam Massina; Sofyan Amrabat, Faycal Fajr, Aymen Barkok; Munir El Haddadi, Sofiane Boufal, Youssef En-Nesyri.