Black Stars on song in pulsating clash

George Byron byrong@timesmedia.co.za

HOT favourites Ghana got their Orange Africa Cup of Nations soccer campaign up and running when they beat Mali 1-0 in a pulsating Group B showdown at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last night.

After drawing their opening game 2-2 against DR Congo, the Black Stars were desperate for the points on offer last night in a make-or-break clash for both teams.

There was a tangible sense of urgency in the Ghana camp as they set about the business of fulfilling their dreams of winning the coveted Afcon title for the first time in 31 years.

After a lively start to the game, the deadlock was broken in the 38th minute when Mali defender Adama Tambouva fouled a rampant Emmanuel Badu and referee Doue Noumandiez, of the Ivory Coast, immediately pointed to the penalty spot.

Cool-headed Ghana star Mubarak Wakaso then stepped up to slot the ball past Mali goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa to give his team the vital edge.

Ghana and Mali both had scoring chances in the first half, and although their build-up play was measured and precise, the Black Stars’ passing let them down in the final quarter.

Seydou Keita had a chance to put Mali ahead but his free kick from just outside the box was wide of the mark in the sixth minute.

Ghana, who looked more settled on the ball than their opponents, won two early first half corners as the pressure began to tell.

Hard-running John Boye caused major problems for Mali down the left flank early in the opening half.

Ace Black Stars goal poacher Asamoah Gyan, hungry for his first goal of the tournament, came close to scoring in the 12th minute, but his fierce strike was blocked by the desperate Mali defence.

Though Ghana started to slowly gain the ascendency, the first half possession statistics showed that Mali were always in the game.

Ghana started the second half strongly in an attempt to score a second goal and put the match beyond a combative Mali side, who always looked capable of grabbing an equaliser.

There were certainly a few nervy moments for the Ghana defence who were guilty of surrendering a two-goal advantage in their opener against Congo.

Lanky Mali striker Cheick Diabate was a constant threat for the Ghanaian defence.

With victory in sight, Ghana controlled the pace of the game in the final minutes much to Mali’s frustration as the clock ticked to fulltime.

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, Ghana were unable to replicate their impressive pre-tournament form in the opener against Congo.

The stakes in last night’s game were always going to be high and Ghana coach Akwasi Appiah had promised, ahead of kick-off, that the Black Stars would go out and “give their best” against Mali.

After last night’s action, all the focus will switch to the final games in the group on Monday (7pm).

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