Ghana grind out tense victory to reach semis at African Cup of Nations
PORT ELIZABETH // Asamoah Gyan's Ghana, pathfinders for their continent at the World Cup in South Africa two and half years ago, reached the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations on Saturday night.
Their status, past glories and the threat of Gyan will make them favourites against Burkina Faso or Togo on Wednesday, although the tight, tense nature of their 2-0 victory over outsiders Cape Verde gave the Black Stars plenty to concern themselves with.
Ghana suffered for their progress. Their first goal came via a disputed penalty, with Gyan impeded.
Now that the Al Ain striker has stood down from spot-kick duties - his penalty miss in the dying moments of the World Cup quarter-final against Uruguay caused he and his family great stress afterwards - it was taken by substitute Mubarak Wakaso.
Wakaso would add a second in injury time, on the counter-attack with all 11 Cape Verdeans, including the goalkeeper, chasing him, having crowded forward for a corner.
Other than that, Ghana seldom troubled Vozinha in the opposition goal. Ghana are not the first team to be kept at bay for long periods by the organised Cape Verdeans, but they will be alarmed by the fact the intrepid islanders, bowing out of their first Nations Cup, put them under far more sustained bombardment than they themselves inflicted.
Cape Verde's adventure finished proudly, even if their coach, Lucio Antunes, struck a sour note by questioning the choice of referee, the Mauritian Seechurn Rajinapasad, for the game, and stating, as he put it, "the tournament needed Ghana in the semi-finals, rather than Cape Verde, who might only bring 200 people to watch".
Antunes believed "the best team is going home".
Certainly, measured by the number of goalscoring chances created, the so-called Blue Sharks had by the end of the second half accumulated more than Ghana.
But Cape Verde's approach through the tournament has not been to act the swashbuckling Atlantic raiders. They organise themselves in numbers defensively when not in possession, and compensate for flaws at full-back with sturdy centre-halves. Ghana launched plenty of crosses early on, most of them easily repelled.
Gyan and his men needed a rethink. As usual, they huddled together on the pitch at the beginning and end of half time. On 50 minutes, they had the lead.
Carlitos Tavares impeded Gyan after the Ghana captain had spun clear of Fernando Varela to gain the penalty award from Rajinjapasad. Wakaso, just on as a substitute, converted, aiming, left-footed, at the centre of the goal with explosive force - his second successful spot kick of the tournament after his conversion against Mali in the group stage.
A fuse had been lit on the tie. Cape Verde have enjoyed their tournament too much to let it slip away quietly.
Support from the crowd had been predominantly Ghanaian until the penalty. As Antunes said, there may be only a few hundred Cape Verde loyalists following them here, but they gathered some neutrals, noisily, once they had fallen a goal down.
The islanders on the pitch were roused, they pushed numbers forward like at no time in their previous, tactically self-conscious matches.
Heldon slipped a drive just past Fatawu Dauda's post, and another over the crossbar; the substitute, Platini, watched Dauda palm his effort around the upright.
Then Djaniny, with a sweetly-struck volley, saw Dauda spectacularly turn that wide. Ghana felt immensely grateful to their goalkeeper by the time Wakaso broke away and put the result beyond doubt.
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Published: February 2, 2013 04:00 AM