Stats Zone semi-final preview: Ghana's weakness and Ivorians' threat's Michael Cox uses the FREE Africa Cup of Nations version of Stats Zone to preview today's semi-finals at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations...

Zambia v Ghana (Wed 8 Feb, 4pm)
Zambia should line up in a basic 4-2-3-1 system against Ghana this afternoon, matching their opponents in the centre of the pitch.

Their midfield partnership functions in an interesting way. Nathan Sinkala can also play as a centre-back, and therefore plays extremely deep in midfield, picking up the ball from his own defenders and calmly distributing the ball out to the full-backs. He rarely ventures into the final third of the pitch.

Isaac Chanca plays alongside him but has much more licence to get forward. He has the freedom to drift to either flank, and also attempts difficult through balls on the edge of the box. It’s very similar to the way Ghana play in midfield, with Anthony Annan sitting and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu driving forward; we could see two identical systems doing battle at Estadio de Bata.

Ghana start the game as firm favourites, but one area they need to improve upon is their distribution from the goalkeeper. Adam Larsen Kwarasey basically had the right idea in the quarter-final win over Tunisia – most of his deliveries were short out to the back four, helping Ghana get the ball forward gradually, and retaining possession.

But a few times he was tempted into kicking the ball long – and Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan is hardly the greatest aerial threat. The diagram shows how unsuccessful these balls were, confirming the feeling that Kwarasey is better off being short with his distribution.

Mali v Ivory Coast (Wed 8 Feb, 7pm)
On the face of it, there was nothing for Ivory Coast to be too disappointed with in their 3-0 win over Equatorial Guinea. They took the lead in the first half and never looked like giving it up, and were comfortable all the way through the game.

But their performance wasn’t as impressive as the scoreline suggests. Ivory Coast continue to have a problem with creativity, and although they managed 11 shots on goal, only five of those chances were actually created themselves – they relied on mistakes for the rest of their attempts.

Even the one assist they did manage was from a set-piece, and this will be a key part of their approach against Mali. The Malians need to be disciplined in their third and prevent conceding free-kicks – Didier Drogba thrives on crosses and is going for the Golden Boot.

The one Ivorian who did provide a spark in open play was Max Gradel, the former Leicester and Leeds winger who played on the left of the front three alongside Didier Drogba and Gervinho. Salomon Kalou will be hopeful of regaining his starting spot for the semi-final, and Francois Zahoui has rotated his players throughout the tournament, but Gradel deserves to continue in the side after his fine performance.

The obvious strength in his game is his dribbling ability, and against Equatorial Guinea he dropped very deep to pick up the ball before turning and running at the right-back Kily. He'll try the same thing again here, and although Mali right-back Drissa Diakite won all four of his attempted tackles in the quarter-final against Gabon, he also conceded seven free-kicks. With the aforementioned Ivorian threat from set-pieces, he needs to be more disciplined today.

More ACoN analysis from Michael Cox:
Fri 3 Feb Deep forwards, midfield runners and the narrowest team
Mon 30 Jan Botswana's goal peppered, Boussifi makes it count & Pitroipa's dribbling problem
Thu 26 Jan Ivory Coast fail to utilise Yaya as young Lass fails to show class
Fri 20 Jan How will Premier League strikers fare at the Africa Cup of Nations?