Sports News of Thursday, 26 January 2017
Ghana’s Black Stars failed to maintain a perfect record in the Africa Cup of Nations after losing 0-1 to Egypt in their last group clash in Port Gentil. The Stars finished behind the seven-time African champions who set up a quarter-final fixture with Morocco in Port Gentil.
The Ghanaians, who had qualified for the knockout phase of the competition ahead of the match, failed to claw back from an early goal as the Pharaohs held onto Mohamed Ghaly’s 10 minute strike to finish as Group D leaders with seven points.
For finishing as runners-up, the Stars will travel to Oyem to play DR Congo, runners-up of Group C.
Egypt’s opening goal was a reward for their early aggressive play as they began the game with a more serious approach in search of a breakthrough.
A well-taken free kick from 20 yards handed the Pharoahs a 10th minute lead as Mohamed Ghaly picked his spot and drilled a shot beyond the Ghanaian defensive wall, leaving Ghana goalie Razak Braimah stranded on his line as he watched the ball fly past him.
Egypt’s Argentine coach Hector Cuper said in a post-match interview that he came into the game determined to win and not to risk a draw even though the Pharaohs needed a point to go through with Ghana ahead of Mali.
Ghana’s coach, Avram Grant rested some key players and introduced young players such as debutant Andy Yiadom, Samuel Tetteh but that gamble did not pay off as the team lost the experience and tactical presence midfielders Thomas Partey and Wakaso Mubarak who played prominent roles in Ghana’s qualification.
Their absence from the starting lineup robbed the team of some midfield thrust, particularly as Agyemang-Badu failed to stamp his authority in the game.
While the team missed the calm presence of Thomas Partey in the holding midfield role, as well as the sturdiness and long, accurate passes Wakaso, they had to battle for almost 50 minutes without their captain Asamoah Gyan due to injury in the first half.
It was a game in which the Egyptians dominated the first half while the Ghanaians came back strongly after recess but failed to find the opening to score.
Until the 20th minute, the Egyptians had the game under control and left Ghana doing most of the ball-chasing. Occasionally, the Ghanaians threatened but were effectively contained by the Egyptians defenders and an agile goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary.
Ghana slowly worked their way back into the game and began to probe for opening using the flanks where Christian Atsu and Tetteh tried to locate target man Gyan in scoring position. The veteran striker failed to connect a scoring change with a header in the 25th minute but kept a dangerous presence in the Egyptian goal area as he combined with Andre Ayew in search of an opener.
However, the striker’s contribution lasted just 40 minutes as he was replaced by Jordan Ayew after sustaining a groin injury while chasing the ball.
As the Stars returned fire and pushed the Egyptians into defensive mode but lacked the invention to open up their defence and convert the few decent chances that fell their way, including a 41st minute opportunity which Amartey nearly headed home after a fine run by Atsu.
Even though Ghana took charge of the game after recess, the Egyptians managed to keep their cool and survived a number of attacks, including the 57th minute when Atsu was stripped of the ball by his markets after trying to dribble his way through a number of defenders when he could have passed the ball to his teammates to in better scoring positions.
Four minutes later, Jordan also missed a chance to score as a timely tackle by his marker pushed the ball to corner before the Aston villa attacker could pull the trigger.
Another fine chance fell Ghana’s way in the 67th minute after El-Hadary spilled Agyemang-Badu’s thunderbolt back into play but Tetteh lacked the killer instincts to punish the Egyptians as the Austria-based attacker wasted the rebound.
And when it looked as though Ghana could rescue a point from the game, El-Hadary rose to the occasion when he made a point-blank save of Jordan’s goal-bound shot one minute to end the game.
After the match, Grant told the media he was disappointed his side could not find the net but remained hopeful that his team would rise to the occasion on Sunday when they face the Congolese in Oyem.
“It was the kind of game that one mistake can decide the game. We made a mistake and got punished by a brilliant free kick.
“I am happy with the boys’ attitude because we dominated the second half but we could not score,” Grant said.
“Sunday’s match is a different story; it will be a tough game but we hope to win.”