By Fred Kaweesi in Port Elizabeth
Ghana v Mali 6pm
Niger v DR Congo 9pm
KWESI Appiah, has in nine months, significantly reduced the average age in the Ghanaian team from 29 to 21 years.
The Black Stars coach’s argument is that such players are normally hungry for success. They are willing to learn and adapt to the demands of international football.
He believes that if they have the talent and temperament, then the rest can easily be taught in the course of a tournament.
But like for all youngsters, such transitions normally take time, as was evident when Ghana squandered a 2-0 lead in their 2-2 draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Nelson Mandela Stadium last Sunday.
Kwesi himself confessed: “About five of the players in the starting line-up have never played on this big stage and they were jittery. A player might be very good, but most of them have never been to any competition. It was normal that they would be nervous.”
In the build-up to the tournament, Appiah had been warned against dropping veteran stars Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien. His decision to overlook Andrew Ayew, son of Ghanaian legend Abedi Pele was also labeled scandalous.
Now the gallows are out for him. His fate now entirely depends on whether his inexperienced youngsters can shake off their nerves and mastermind a must-win victory against a more experienced Malian side tonight.
One of the exciting Black Starlets that Appiah will look to for salvation is 21-year-old Christian Atsu, who scored the first goal of the tournament.
“It is not going to be easy but we will correct the mistakes from our first match and come back strongly. We have learnt a lot of lessons from the first game.”
It will be the third time in a space of a year that the two West African giants face-off. They met during the group stages and in the third-fourth place playoff at the previous tournament co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Ghana won their first round clash 2-0 but lost to the Malians by the same score-line during the bronze medal match.
Cheick Tidiane struck twice then and will return to haunt the Black Stars alongside star midfielder Seydou Keita.
The former Barcelona player scored the only goal that earned the Eagles three points against Niger on Sunday and victory against the Black Stars will seal a quarterfinal berth for Patrice Carteron’s side.
“The Ghana game will be important because if we make it, we will have qualified,” Carteron pointed.