Ghana's Wakaso celebrates his goal after taking a penalty kick past Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha during their African Cup of Nations quarter-final soccer match in Port Elizabeth

Ghana is through to Africa Cup of Nations semifinals, eliminates Cape Verde

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Ghana came into the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations looking to show more attacking ambition than in previous tournaments, and through three games, it’s worked. The Black Stars took seven points from three games to finish on top of Group B. Along the way, they scored six goals, an output that’s positioned them next to Ivory Coast as the team most likely to win this tournament.

On Saturday, in a quarterfinal the Black Stars were expected to win, we saw a bit of a reversion to type. Ghana didn’t find an open play goal against Cape Verde until stoppage time, though by then an early second half Wakaso Mubarak penalty kick had forced the Blue Sharks to chase the match. With Cape Verde throwing men forward, Mubarak completed his double and sent Ghana into the semifinals after a 2-0 win.

Throughout the match, Ghana coach James Kewsi Appiah left striker Asamoah Gyan alone up top, a setup that harkened back to the more conservative approaches the Black Stars have employed in recent year. For his part Gyan conceded it was difficult but fruitful work:

“It can be quite frustrating, being alone upfront,” Gyan conceded, “but being on the winning side is all that matters.”

Saturday’s victory clinched the Black Stars’ fourth straight semifinal appearance, a final four place that won’t be free of controversy. Just as any match decided by a penalty kick would be, today’s result was disputed, with Cape Verde boss Lucio Antunes asking reporters to “have to take your own conclusions on the officiating” which decide Gyan drew a penalty after going to round in the 52nd minute.

Sarcastically, Antunes also noted it was better for the tournament for Ghana to advance, as they’d draw bigger crowds.

“The result is fair because Ghana have good players,” Antunes said. “The tournament wasn’t going to be interesting with Togo versus Cape Verde.”

While the sentiments were obviously misplaced, there is some truth in noting South Africa’s crowds are largely pro-Ghanian. The country adopted the Black Stars in 2010 when Ghana was Africa’s last survivor at the World Cup.

The support has carried over to this year’s Cup of Nations, with Appiah noting the support has side saw Saturday.

“South Africa is a second home of Ghanaians,” the Black Stars boss said. “I wish I could get dual nationality, I’d choose South Africa!”

The warmth of the crowd was also felt on the field, with Gyan noting the “wonderful reception for (Ghana) and I want to pray for South Africa, so that they do well for the sake of their people’s kindness to us.”

Such sentiments are sure to maintain South African loyalties into the next round. There, Ghana will face the winner of tomorrow’s Burkina Faso-Togo meeting in Nelspruit.


“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.