PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah is so wary of the underdog threat of tournament debutant Cape Verde in the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals that he has suggested he would “prefer” to face title favorite Ivory Coast instead.
Even after Ghana beat the Cape Verdeans 1-0 in a friendly late last year, Appiah won’t be underestimating the rank outsider after it lifted itself from the brink of elimination and into the last eight in the final minutes of the group stage.
The quarterfinals were an unlikely dream for the small island nation when it started its first major tournament in South Africa nearly two weeks ago.
“They will play without any pressure and they are a very physical side, meaning we have to prepare ourselves very well to match them,” Appiah said on Wednesday. “I respect them and we cannot afford to underrate them.”
The teams, one a four-time African champion and the other a tournament first-timer, meet in the African Cup’s first quarterfinal at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
Winger Wakaso Mubarak scored the winner in November’s friendly between the countries in Portugal, when Ghana was probably not thinking it would cross paths with Lucio Antunes’ tactically disciplined team again in the last eight of the Nations Cup.
Ghana couldn’t take much from that victory either, Appiah said, with the buoyant Cape Verde team’s mindset completely different now after it surged into the quarters on a wave of joy at its unexpected success.
“I don’t rely on friendly games because in the real game it could be different,” Appiah said. “And looking at how they’ve performed (at the African Cup) so far, they are a very good side.”
Yet Ghana’s coach has his own reasons to be confident after a flowing 3-0 victory over Niger ensured the Black Stars qualified top of Group B and cruised into the quarters unbeaten and approaching top form after a sluggish start.
The four-time winner was also slowly returning to a fully fit squad after Wakaso, midfielder Anthony Annan and striker Richmond Boakye all trained again this week after injury.
Wakaso, who underlined his value with the goal in a narrow 1-0 win over Mali, had sat out the Niger game with suspension and a left knee injury. He was expected to be fully recovered for the weekend, an important addition for Ghana as its new penalty taker in place of Asamoah Gyan.