Black Starlets offensive midfielder Emmanuel Toku, became the hero of the day as he courageously powered Ghana into the final of the ongoing U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, with his incisive penalty kick that was to decide the winners between his side and Niger in their crunch semi-final encounter yesterday.
After failing to score in regulation time, and with both Ghana and Niger at par during the penalty shoot out, it was Toku’s kick that gave his side a 6-5 win to qualify the team to Sunday’s final against defending champions, Mali.
Moments after his shot hit the back of the net after Niger’s goalkeeper, Abdoulaye Boubacar Adamu failed to make a touch, both the players and officials of the Starlets poured on Toku in celebration.
It was indeed, a great joy and relief, given that moments before, skipper Eric Ayiah who is the tournament top scorer, had failed to convert his kick when the Starlets were leading 3-2 in the shootout.
Ayiah, for the goals he had scored in the competition, was expected to send his side through after his goalkeeper, Danlad Ibrahim had saved Ishmael Issaka Magagi’s shot to give the Starlets an advantage, but as has been reminiscient of arrowheads missing spot kicks, Ayiah had his bad luck too, and thus pushed the game into further shoot outs, until Toku saved the day.
Both teams scored their next kicks to bring the scores to 5-5, but disaster hit Niger when Djibrilla Ibrahim Massi’s shot failed to find target, and when Toku stood behind the ball, the stadium became still, and with all eyes glued at him, he cooly planted the ball at the blind side of goalkeeper Adamu who had stood between the Starlets and victory during regulation time with his superb saves.
It was a match that the Starlets should have won comfortably during regulation time to save them from the agony of penalty shootouts which had become a bane for our national teams during such tournaments. They created all the chances throughout the match, but failed to convert any of them, thus giving their opponents the confidence to come close on a couple of occasions, especially at the closer stages of regulation time. The most dangerous threat was substitute Yacine Wa Massouba’s 25-metre thunderbolt which hit the post with goalkeeper Ibrahim completely beaten.
Right from the start, the Starlets carried the game to their opponents, and pinned them in thier half, with Ayiah combining beautifully with Gabriel Leveh, Mohammed Iddriss, Edmund Arko-Mensah and Emmanuel Toku, they made series of inroads into Niger’s territory and fired from all angles, but they missed all the chances, with goalkeeper Adamu also making brilliant saves to deny them.
The second half followed the same pattern with Ayiah, Toku and Iddriss coming close on many occasions and their push in the final moments, failed to yield any good result. Niger also made series of incursions with their counter attacks, but failed to find target until the penalty shootouts was evoked to decide the match winner.
Mali, remained on course for their title defence after beating Guinea 2-0 on penalties in their semi-final game also played yesterday.
Ghana: Danlad Ibrahim, Bismark Terry Owusu, Faisal Osman, Abdul Razak Yusif, John Otu, Edmund Arko-Mensah/Gideon Acquah, Rashid Alhassan, Mohammed Iddris, Emmanuel Toku, Gariel Leveh/Ibrahim Sulley, Eric Ayiah.