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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 15:32 GMT
Home advantage
By James Copnall
BBC Sport, Ghana

Jules Bocande
The burden of expectation got to us (as hosts in 1992) and we crumbled because of it, going out in the quarter-finals

Jules Bocande, former Senegal striker

Two years ago hosts Egypt clinched a record-breaking fifth African title in front of delirious home fans in Cairo.

The screaming hordes of Pharaoh supporters helped their side to seemingly impossible heights during the tournament, playing their part as the celebrated '12th man' to perfection.

Egypt benefitted hugely from playing at home and Ghana must be hoping for the same fan-propelled push as they prepare for their semi-final clash against Cameroon on Thursday.

But just how important is the home advantage in African football?

In bald statistical terms, very; as the host nation has won 11 of the previous 25 tournaments, or 44%.

The last two hosts, Egypt (2006) and Tunisia (2004), both won backed by passionate home support, but before that you have to go back to South Africa in 1996 to find a home winner.

Bafana Bafana followed the example of Sudan, who in 1970 claimed their only title on home soil.

In fact, home dominance was at its peak in the early years of the Nations Cup, when fewer teams took part.

Three of the first four tournaments went to the hosts, ending with Ghana, in 1963, when a double from Mfum and a penalty from Aggrey-Finn allowed the Black Stars to triumph over Sudan.

Ghanaian fans can take heart from that, and indeed from other trips down memory lane.

Sulley Muntari
You can't describe it (the fans' support), we thank them for coming and cheering us

Ghana's Sulley Muntari

In 1978 the mercurial talents of Abdul 'Golden Boy' Razack inspired the Black Stars to another home victory.

Indeed, it is only in 2000, when Ghana co-hosted with Nigeria after Zimbabwe was forced to pull out, that the Ghanaians did not lift the title at home.

CK Akunnor, who captained his side to a quarter-final exit at this tournament, thinks there are clear disadvantages of playing at home.

"It doesn't guarantee that you're going to win a tournament as there is a great pressure playing in front of your home fans.

"When I was captain there were many problems with the team and management structure - I don't think the current team has these problems but I plead with Ghanaians to support their team in a positive manner and not weigh on their shoulders."

A plea that may well have been heard after the Sulley Muntari gave credit to the role of the vociferous Black Stars' fans in Accra in helping their victory over Nigeria in the semi-finals.

"They helped us a lot, it was fantastic," Muntari told BBC Sport.

"You can't describe it, we thank them for coming and cheering us, and we'll try our best not to let them down."

Charles Kumi Gyamfi led Ghana to three Nations Cup titles as a coach and sympathises that an intense demand for the home team to do well can be counter-productive.

"When people put so much pressure on the hosts it doesn't help the team."

Jules Bocande, Senegal's legendary striker, also had a bad experience of playing for a nation that was hosting the Nations Cup.
Egypt fans
Egypt won the 2006 Nations Cup thanks to some great home support

"In 1992 we all thought we were going to win, as did all of our fans.

"Everybody wanted to meet us and be seen with us, as they thought we would soon be champions.

"But the burden of expectation got to us and we crumbled because of it, going out in the quarter-finals."

Football fans the world over are demanding, but success should not only be measured by overall victory and the collection of silverware.

Numerous host nations in recent years have secured fine results despite not lifting the trophy.

Mali returned from the international wilderness in 2002, and reached the semi-finals.

Hosting the tournament boosted sports' infrastructure all over the country, and since then the Eagles have become a force to be reckoned with in the African game, reaching the semi-final in Tunisia 2004 as well as the Athens Olympics.

Nigeria, co-hosts in 2000, were only denied an African crown by a controversial penalty shoot-out, while Burkina Faso reached the semi-finals in 1998, a performance they haven't come close to matching since.

In fact, you have to go back to Tunisia 1994 to find a home side that flopped utterly. The Carthage Eagles didn't make it out of the group stages.

Perhaps the most striking example of playing hosts came in 1982, when Libya, in a tournament played on artificial pitches, reached the final, losing to Ghana on penalties.

In several decades of international competition the Libyans have only qualified for the Nations Cup finals once, in Egypt two years ago.

So there seems little doubt that a combination of passionate fans and the comforts of home can take a team far.

Whether some or all of these factors, coupled with their fine squad of players, take Ghana to a fifth continental title will be determined in the next few days.



SEE ALSO
2008 Cup of Nations qualifying
20 Oct 07 |  Africa Cup of Nations


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