Story: Michael Quaye
AN outstanding show of courage and resilience propelled Ghana's Black Stars on to a 2-1 victory over Nigeria's Super Eagles, and into the semi-finals of the ongoing Ghana 2008 football tournament.
It was an amazing comeback written by the Black Stars who fell behind for the first time in the match, lost one man with 30 minutes to play and grabbed the winner late to leave Nigeria coach, German Berti Vogts, pondering over his future on his first job in Africa.
Despite Manuel Junior Agogo winning the day for the Stars, the plaudits went to Sulley Ali Muntari for his vision and courage in running with the ball and providing the killer pass that made the difference with just seven minutes remaining. Muntari won the Man-of-the-Match award.
It was a day of mixed fate for the Black Stars, but the hard-in-coming victory, even if ultimately considered pyrrhic, was savoured with passion across Ghana as fans woke to the reality of an approaching possibility of hosting and winning the cup for a fifth time.
First, the Ghanaians fell behind the Nigerians through a penalty, and when they were level, a red card cost them defensive pillar, John Mensah. But the remarkable display of a willing spirit, underpinned by the urge from the nearly 40,000 fans at the stadium to perform without failing,
forced the Stars into an all-gun-blazing battle with the Eagles and still emerged triumphant.
Ghana's French coach Claude Le Roy aside, none other than John Mensah could be more relieved by the Stars’ victory. Spotted for the infringement on Ukechukwu Uche that resulted in the 35th minute penalty from which Yakubu Ayegbeni put Nigeria ahead, Mensah did not only kill the menacing run of the brilliant Peter Odemwingie, but curtailed his own role in the game with a tackle that must have led to a near-seizeure of many Ghanaian hearts on the 60th minute.
As he walked off to some cheers from the crowd, Mensah removed his jerseyu and threw it on the field in frustration at the difficulty he had plunged his colleagues, and a section of the crowd backed him when they threw objects onto the field in apparent protest at the decision.
In between the incidents, Michael Essien revived life among the crowd with a clinical finish to Quincy Owusu-Abeyie's cross on the stroke of half-time. And the celebrations began without restraint as Ghana came level.
But the Eagles maintained their quick play in attack until Mensah was forced to commit the difficult choice of fouling the threatening Odemwingie from behind.
In a truly cagey tie full of tension, skills, tactics and abundant quality, only the result could separate the two sides at the end.
For, while Ghana dominated with a near-perfect passing game, the Nigerians stuck to a tight game plan that virtually neutralised Essien's influence, as Obi stayed hugely in control of a Super Eagles orchestra that played with outstanding harmony.
And with Essien largely anonymous, Stars coach Claude Le Roy was handed the difficult job of re-arranging his men following Mensah's exit.
Laryea Kingston's entry as the French coach sacrificed Asamoah Gyan was hardly effective as his wild crosses either went wide or had lone ranger Manuel Junior Agogo racing in vain.
But the willing Stars hardly showed any inadequacy despite Mensah's red card,
as the combative Anthony Annan — my man-of-the-match — battled the
giants in Mikel Obi and George Olofinjana in midfield until victory was achieved.
Ghana: Richard Kingson, John Paintsil, Hans Adu Sarpei, Eric Addo, John Mensah, Anthony Annan, Quincy Owusu Abeyei/Haminu Draman, Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan/Laryea Kingston, Junior Agogo, Sulley Ali Muntari.
Nigeria: Austine Ejide, Joseph Yobo, Taiwo Taye, Obinna Nwaneri, Daniel Shittu, John Mikel Obi, Yakubu Ayigbeni, Peter Odemwingie, George Olofinjana, Ikechukwu Uche, Paul Etuhu/Richard Eromoigbe.