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Afcon semifinals key duels


Anticipated key duels at the Africa Cup of Nations semifinals on Wednesday:
At Libreville – Ivory Coast v Mali
Didier Drogba (CIV) – Cedric Kante (MLI)

The battle between the Chelsea striker and the Mali defender promises to be a fascinating not to say crucial one, with both players pivotal to their respective teams’ fortunes.

Drogba’s role in the Ivorians’ march to the semifinals has been significant. In the first round he produced the only goal of the game in their first match against Sudan, and set up Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou for the opener against Burkina Faso.

Like so many of the Elephants’ star-studded squad he boasts invaluable big match sang froid, as he showed in the quarterfinal when he responded to missing a penalty by scoring twice against Equatorial Guinea.

Mali captain Kante is like his Ivorian foe a national veteran, his rock solid stewardship of Mali’s defence an eye catching feature of the Eagles’ journey to the last four.

The 32-year-old, who joined Greek side Panathinaikos in 2009, was born in France but elected to play for the country of his parents’ birth. He made his international debut back in 2006, and even got on the scoring sheet here when converting Mali’s third spot kick in the penalty shoot out quarterfinal win over Gabon.

In the absence of Mali stars Mahamadou Diarra, Momo Sissoko and Frederic Kanoute Kante has, with Seydou Keita, assumed greater responsibilities. On his strong shoulders rest the hope’s of a nation.

At Bata – Ghana v Zambia

Asamoah Gyan (GHA) – Kennedy Mweene (ZAM)

Confidence is key for a striker, and Asamoah Gyan has it in bucketfuls. The United Arab Emirates-based forward is enjoying himself at the 2012 Nations Cup.

Against Mali the 25-year-old was shackled by his markers until conjuring up a superb freekick to spark the Black Stars’ 2-0 win. And he was key to Ghana’s’ second goal when his back-heel set up Andre Ayew.

He has come up with important goals for his country at the 2010 World Cup finals – despite missing the last minute penalty against Uruguay in the quarterfinals – and the 2010 Nations Cup where Ghana were beaten finalists.

“I have been the countrys lone striker for the past six years, it shows how great I am,” he said without the slightest trace of humour here last week.

Gyan’s goal-seeking skills face a stern test with charismatic Kennedy Mweene keeping goal for the Copper Bullets.

Mweene, just nine years old at the time of the 1993 Zambian team’s air crash off the coast of Gabon, told AFP in January he and his teammates were coming to the Nations Cup to “put the souls of our fallen heroes to rest”.

Mweene, who plays for South African Premiership outfit Free State Stars, has captained Zambia frequently. The first choice keeper since his debut in 2004 is an old Nations Cup hand, appearing in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 editions.

He produced a match-winning save when bravely blocking an Equatorial Guinea shot in the 1-0 win that left his team as Group a winners.

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