Ghana Ivory Coast final sums up 2015 Afcon

The final pairing of Ivory Coast and Ghana is a microcosm of what a bizarre tournament this African Cup of Nations has been in terms of expectations.

African football rarely follows the script in the first place, having become renowned for its refusal to allow the top teams to triumph and willingness for the minnows to flourish. A remarkable number of the top teams failed to qualify for the 2012 edition, and while the majority of the big-wigs reached Equatorial Guinea this time round, the holders Nigeria missed out.

But this tournament has been something else. Group A was turned upside down, with Burkina Faso and Gabon going out and Congo and Equatorial Guinea going through. DR Congo wriggled out of Group B to the semi-final, despite being highly unfancied, while in-form Cameroon were ousted by open-all-hours Ivory Coast and Guinea – the latter going through on the drawing of lots. Any pre-tournament tree diagrams tracking the progress of each team were promptly tossed out the window.

Ghana wormed their way through Group C with a drizzle of average football, playing about 45 minutes of decent stuff up until the semis – that being the second half of their group stage game against South Africa. The semi-final 3-0 win over Equatorial Guinea was nonetheless impressive, having managed a thoroughly professional display by refusing to be ousted by the hosts and ignoring the chaos going on around them.

Marred by pre-tournament pessimism, the Ghanaians are not all that different from the Ivorians. This has been the tournament people seemed to give up believing in. Avram Grant's appointment hardly inspired, but somehow they've managed to get to the final, clearly benefiting from the release of expectation.

With Herve Renard at the Ivory Coast helm, the Elephants have a coach experienced in winning the showpiece after guiding Zambia to success in 2012.

Ahead of Sunday's final, Renard is hoping to draw on that experience - paying tribute in particular to his star names.

"I'm feeling every day the same way and same team spirit that we had with Zambia in 2012," he told a news conference on Saturday.

"Of course, there's always a different story with every team in football but I would like to congratulate my players because they have all put in a lot of effort in this AFCON, including the ones people would refer to as the big stars.

"They're performing. They have forgotten their star status and put the team first and I've been reminding them that some of them would be coming to the AFCON for the last time and if they don't win now, they will never do.

"I've told them it's their last chance to win and I think it is motivating them as well. It will be a tough game on Sunday because Ghana is a specialist of the AFCON.

"They have played eight finals and this will be their ninth and in 1992, they lost to Ivory Coast. But I can't think even for one second about failing in the final."

Now Ivory Coast and Ghana are one match away from reigning supreme in Africa at last – in the year that no one believed in their chances for once.

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