The Black Stars, whose last triumph in the competition dates back to 1982, when they beat Libya on penalties, qualified for the final with a 3-0 semi-final victory against the hosts Equatorial Guinea, while the Elephants, who picked up their sole championship in 1992, beat the DR Congo 3-1 in their last game. Their failure to lift Africa's crown in recent times is not the only similarity between the two. They both had disappointing campaigns at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and both took on new coaches to take them to the AFCON finals.
Grant has not shied away from taking difficult decisions – like benching veteran defender John Boye or selecting unheralded players like Kwesi Appiah, who has been playing his club football in the fourth tier of English football for Cambridge United, on loan from Crystal Palace. The striker, who came on in Ghana's last group match against South Africa, started the quarter-final against Guinea and scored once in his man-of-the-match performance and then kept his place for the semi-final.
It's good to go to the final as no one gave us a chance.
Avram Grant, Ghana coach.
Going into the tournament Grant and his side were not given much of a chance and were criticised after they went down in their opening match to Senegal. "We lost the first game, we won the second in the last minute. The third game we had to win, and we came from behind to do it. Every game we're playing better football and we're scoring a lot of goals. My players picked themselves up and they showed Ghana that they could count on them," Grant said after the match against the hosts.
He has built his side around his two captains Asmoah Gyan and Andre Ayew as well as experienced players like Christian Atsu and Harrison Afful. "It's good to go to the final as no one gave us a chance. They spoke of other teams, saying they were better than us, but we are the ones in the final and now we want to win the cup,” he said.
Renard's revolution in place
Standing in Grant's way to win his first major trophy with a national side is Renard, who warned before the tournament that people should not expect too much from a Côte d'Ivoire side that was very much in a transition stage. With players like Didier Drogba having retired, Renard was forced to bring in new blood and said that only time would tell how fast the new players could adapt. They have obviously adapted very well, as the Elephants have grown as the tournament progressed and looked impressive in knocking out the top ranked African side Algeria in the quarter-finals and then scoring thrice against the DR Congo in their semi-final.
Renard has also managed to find a good mix between the experience of the Toure brothers, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony and players like Sylvain Gbohouo and Eric Bertrand Bailly who managed to break into the first team at this tournament. Renard was careful to downplay expectations, but the fiery boss has brought some steel to the side. “I do not see us as the favorites for the final, but only a second title will satisfy me" he said. "I hope we will impose ourselves on the match, and we have the solidity and discipline to do that. The team has lost two finals already [2008 and 2012], and we need to get it right this time. We have a different style than the Côte d'Ivoire teams of the past, and there are some players most people did not know before the tournament. They have worked very hard and shown they deserve to be in the team. We have a good balance between hard work and determination.”
Ghana has a slight edge in the head-to-head record between the two sides in the competition, having won five of the nine previous encounters, including two semi-final matches in 1968 (4-3) and 1970 (2-1). The next time the two sides met was in 1992, which proved to be an epic Cup of Nations final as both sides squandered chances and a penalty shoot-out required to decide the outcome, with the match goalless after extra time. It took 24 penalties before the two teams could finally be separated when Tony Baffoe, the first Black Stars players to take his second penalty of the shootout, saw his shot saved by Alain Gouamene to give the Elephants their only win in the competition so far.