LUANDA (AFP) - Ghana face neighbours Nigeria in a charged west African derby here Thursday with the prize a ticket to the Africa Cup of Nations final.
The semi-finalists who face off at Luanda's 11 November stadium made it through in wildly contrasting fashions.
While four-time winners Ghana impressed in their 1-0 quarter-final win over hosts Angola, Nigeria laboured to a goalless extra-time draw with Zambia, only prevailing on penalties, with Israeli-based goalkeeper Victor Enyeama converting the decisive spot kick for a 5-4 win.
Despite their far from impressive performance Ghana coach Milovan Rajevic is too wily a coach to take Nigeria's form in Benguela at face value.
"If you just look at Nigeria's quarter-final performance it can create a false impression," warned the Serb, speaking as ever with the help of his trusty translator.
"Yesterday (Tuesday) they showed they were an experienced team who knew what they wanted.
"You can't draw any conclusions from that game, you have to look at the bigger picture.
"Take for example Ivory Coast. They didn't play very well against Burkina Faso, then showed they could play a lot better in their next matches."
Rajevic has worked wonders to get Ghana this far given the injury crisis he has had to contend with, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien among a host of key players out injured.
Yet he said he wasn't surprised at Ghana's progress to the semi-finals.
"When you consider we have eight younger players from Ghana's Under-20 World Cup winning team combined with some experienced players it's an excellent mix.
"My team has proved its quality, they know how to compete, they are tough, and there is an excellent atmosphere and spirit in the squad."
Rajevic is due to welcome back Norwegian-based midfielder Anthony Annan, who has missed all of Ghana's matches in Angola up to now.
"Anthony is recovering well and we can use him for the semi-final," Rajevac confirmed.
However, he will be without Agyemang Opuku, who is suspended.
Rajevic, meanwhile, may be a 'blow in' from Serbia but he doesn't need reminding of the importance Ghanaians attach to beating Nigeria.
"There is a definite rivalry between the two countries. On top of that this is a semi-final in the Africa Cup of Nations, with a place in the final up for grabs."
Recent history is on Ghana's side, after they knocked out Nigeria in the quarter-finals at the 2008 competition on home soil.
Asamoah Gyan scored the decisive goal in Ghana's quarter-final win over the hosts in Luanda on Sunday and the Rennes striker is relishing facing Nigeria again.
Gyan said: "Every Ghanaian knows how important it is to play Nigeria. We are ready for them and prepared and we will stick to the game plan that the coach has mapped out for us.
"We beat Nigeria two years ago. We have a lot of young guys in the team but we are concentrated and we will do everything possible to win."
Ghana are four time winners of the competition but their last title dates back to 1982.
Nigeria, meanwhile, champions in 1980 and 1994, have yet to catch fire in Angola, and will have to put in a more convincing display than they did against Zambia to see off Ghana.
Nigeria's under-fire coach Shaibu Amodu said after edging Zambia: "I was worried for the reputation of Nigeria, not for my job. It wouldn't have been good to once again be knocked out in the quarter-finals.
"We've said from day one that we have a team that can win this tournament. I know that I have the players to win it.
"We didn't play very well against Zambia but we showed how to play as a team.
"We're not at our best at the moment but we are improving all the time, and in five months (at the World Cup) we'll be a lot better."
|Coach: M. Rajevac|
for A. Opoku 30'
for H. Sarpei 54'
for A. Gyan 84'
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