COOL and calculating Ghana powered their way into the quarterfinals of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) when they trounced Niger 3-0 in their soccer clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last night.
The emphatic win means the classy Black Stars, who finished top of the final Group B standings, will stay in Port Elizabeth for a quarterfinal showdown against Cape Verde on Saturday.
The runners-up in Group B, Mali, will now face South Africa in Durban on Saturday. Mali progressed to the knockout stage after they drew 1-1 with Democratic Republic of Congo last night.
The quick-passing Black Stars got off to a perfect start when their inspirational skipper Asamoah Gyan had the ball in the net after only five minutes.
Fed from the right flank with a well-directed cross from Albert Adomah, Gyan drilled the ball past Niger goalkeper Daouda Kassali to stamp his team’s authority over their opponents.
This early strike gave Ghana added confidence and the Niger defence were kept on the back foot by the attack-minded Black Stars in front of a noisy crowd of more than 13000 soccer fans.
The second Ghana goal arrived after 22 minutes and this time the influential Gyan provided the pass for talented young Christian Atsu to score.
Once they were 2-0 ahead, Ghana started to dominate the contest and their well-organised midfield kept the pressure on the Niger defence.
With the first half drawing to a close, Kassali was forced to make a brave save after Emmannuel Badu fired a fierce shot.
Just three minutes after the teams came out for the second half, Ghana made it 3-0 when John Boye scrambled the ball in the net after Kassali fumbled.
Ghana are aiming to end a 31-year wait for an Afcon title.
After a slow start to the tournament, Ghana have began to show the form that earmarked them as one of the early favourites to lift the coveted trophy.
The Fifa rankings suggested Ghana would have things their own way in this final group encounter. The Black Stars are ranked 26th in the world and Niger a lowly 97th.
Ghana and their devoted fans have taken a liking to Port Elizabeth and no doubt their coach Kwesi Appiah will be happy that his side have extended their stay in the city by another five days.
Ghana had been expecting a highly physical game against Niger, who adopted a robust approach to their earlier matches and were penalised on a number of occasions in the first 20 minutes for badly-timed tackles.
Afcon officials appointed experienced no-nonsense referee Badara Diatta to take charge of the showdown.
In their opener against Congo, Black Stars surrendered a 2-0 lead – an inexplicable lapse of concentration which was totally out of character for one of Africa’s best teams. Last night, once they had taken a 2-0 lead, there was never a hint that they would allow the hardworking Niger side back into the contest.
Gyan had warned his team against complacency ahead of last night’s kick-off and they certainly heeded his instructions in what proved to be a dominant display.