THE Africa Cup of Nations roared into life at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last night when Ghana and Congo played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in front of 20979 enthralled fans. After Ghana led 1-0 at halftime, Congo threw everything into attack against the hot Group B favourites, who had been tipped to win easily against a team whose preparations had been badly disrupted by a dispute over bonuses.
In the end, it was the Black Stars who were probably happy to escape with a draw against a Congo side who grew in confidence as the game progressed.
Ahead of the kick-off, Congo warned that they intended to “spoil the party” for some of the big-name teams and the Leopards certainly delivered on their promise last night. Ghana’s new breed of young stars had been expected to have too much firepower for Congo, but on the night they were frustrated by a resolute showing by the well-organised Leopards.
Given little chance before kick-off against the star-studded Ghanaians, Congo threw Group B wide open with their hard-fought showing against one of Africa’s best teams. Ghana are ranked 31st and Congo only a lowly 103rd in the latest Fifa world rankings. After the opening two matches of the tournament finished goalless in Johannesburg on Saturday night, the crowd were willing the teams to score and the deadlock was finally broken in the 40th minute when Ghana managed to pierce the Congo defence after a host of missed chances.
The goal came from Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, who netted from close range after some fine work by Kwadwo Asamoah split the Congo defence.
Congo could easily have been ahead at the break, but Lomana Lululua hit the crossbar with the Ghanaian goalkeeper beaten.
Ghana went 2-0 ahead in the 49th minute when Kwadwo Asamoa headed the ball into the Congo net after a spell of sustained pressure from the Black Stars.
However, the blue-shirted Congo side refused to lie down and they struck back four minutes later to ensure that Ghana would suffer a nervous second half.
Congo’s first goal came after some neat interplay among the forwards with Tresor Mputu scoring after a defence-splitting pass from Cedric Makiadi in the 53rd minute.
There was more drama to follow in the 68th minute when South African referee Daniel Bennett ruled that Ghana’s Jerry Akaminto fouled Deumerci Mbokani in the box.
The cool-headed Mbokani then stepped up to put the ball in the back of the net much to the delight of the Congo supporters.
The stylish Ghana side arrived in Port Elizabeth with their confidence sky-high after beating Egypt and Tunisia in convincing fashion at their pre-tournament training camp in Abu Dhahi.
However, much to the disappointment of many neutrals in the crowd, Ghana were unable to replicate their impressive pre-tournament form.
What made Congo’s showing even more remarkable was the fact that experienced coach Claude le Roy threatened to resign just two days before last night’s kick-off.
The turmoil in the Congo camp upset their pre-match training schedule and the Leopards must have been delighted at the manner in which they regrouped against one of the teams favoured to win the tournament.
The shrewd Le Roy, who was quick to label his team as underdogs, also pointed out before kick-off that his team would be aiming to “spoil the party” for some of the more fancied sides.
With their Cup campaign up and running, a resurgent Congo will return to Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for their next game against a Niger outfit who will have taken note of last night’s performance.
Ghana won the last of four Nations Cup trophies in 1982 and their experienced coach Kwesi Appiah is keen to end the long wait for more silverware. However, much work needs to be done if his team are to get back on track against Mali on Thursday.