While Ghana qualified as runners-up in Group C with six points, Niger proved the bookmakers wrong by not only topping Group E with 4 points, but also used Cameroun as the sacrificial lamb after stunning them 1-0 in their last group match to book a place in the quarter-finals.
With that feat, Niger will be highly motivated as they seek to upset their West African neighbours and progress to the semi-finals.
Already, Coach Harouna Doula of Niger has started talking big, saying their victory over highly fancied Cameroun was not a fluke and that they were more determined to add Ghana as their next victim to prove their worth as title contenders.
“We deserved to win against Cameroun. This is because we worked very hard for the victory,” Coach Doula stated during a post-match interview last Tuesday.
He stressed that “we needed to push them to make mistakes and to take advantage of that. We were patient, knowing that we needed to play the match to win."
“The most important thing was that we do not concede goals. The players deserve the win to play in the quarter-finals where we hope to progress to the next stage of the competition,” he said.
Doula, the first coach to qualify Niger to the CHAN in 2011, as well as the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012, said much was being done to produce good results against Ghana with the view of developing Nigerien football to greater heights.
“This result is good for Africa. It cannot always be the same teams winning all the time. I believe there are no longer smaller countries. We are working very hard, so like Mauritania and Madagascar, Niger will improve and progress,“ he assured.
Just like Niger, Ghana also intensified their preparation ahead of this important clash against Niger tonight.
Skipper Gladson Awako, who was nursing an injury during the group matches, rejoined the team at training this week and the expectation is that his inclusion would add some venom to the Galaxies attacking machinery.
However, the only setback was the controversy over bonuses, which allegedly created some rancour among the playing body and the management team.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports had to step in to address the issue and implore all Ghanaians to rally behind the team to lift the flag of Ghana high.
In a release, the ministry stated that $6,000 had been paid to each player as qualification bonus, noting that the players were in high spirits for today's encounter.
“The ministry wishes to state the fact that there has been an agreement to pay an amount of $1,500 to each player per match during the qualifiers. Therefore, the total amount due each player stood at $6,000.00 which has been honoured.
The ministry explained that, "Records at the Ministry of Youth and Sports is directly at variance with what has been published as all bonuses due players and technical team officials have been honoured. It is, therefore, surprising to read from our esteemed media that the players are in disagreement with management over unpaid qualification bonuses.
“Consequently, we wish to state categorically that there is absolute peace, unity and harmony at the camp of the Black Galaxies and that the concern of the ministry is the mobilisation of national support for the team to deliver and lift the flag of Ghana high at the tournament,” it added.
With calm restored in camp now, Ghanaians, home and abroad expect the Black Galaxies to shine brighter against Niger tonight and advance to the last four stage of the competition.