By Carlos Kambaekwa
Hosts Ghana were made to work extra hard before winning their opening match in the 26th edition of the MTN African Nations Cup at a packed to the rafters Ohene Djan stadium in Accra last night.
Despite having the lion’s share of ball possession in the early stages of an otherwise seesaw encounter, Asamoah Gyan missed a sitter to put the hosts ahead after the striker was set free by Larya Kingston.
Gyan had another chance to redeem himself after some confusion amongst the Guinea defence but his poor first touch saw the ball going astray.
With action swinging from end to end, Guinea won a free kick on the edge of the penalty box and inspirational captain Pascal Feindounou masterfully whipped the ball into the path of the well-positioned Oumar Kalabane, who ballooned the ball over the bar with a powerful header.
Shortly afterwards, it was Ismael Bangoura’s turn with another inviting chance for the visitors but the striker blasted the ball inches over the crossbar after a defensive blunder by Ghanaian captain John Mensah.
At the other end, Sulley Muntari’s cross-cum shot almost landed in the net but Naby Diarso stretched at full length to avert the danger with 17 minutes gone on the clock.
With the home crowd becoming frustrated, the Michael Essien led Ghanaian team started to stamp their authority on the match and Quincy Abeyie Owusu came tantalizingly close with a header that shaved the upright before the ball rolled to safety.
The hosts failed to capitalize on numerous inviting chances which resulted from a dozen corner kicks that came their way, leaving the scoreline goalless at the break.
Guinea captain Feindounou was the first player to fall foul of the referee’s crime sheet when the tricky striker was booked for dissent in the 51st minute.
Ghana took the lead from the penalty spot in the 53rd minute after Daouda Jabi inadvertently made contact with the advancing Manuel Agogo in the penalty box.
Referee Eddy Maillet from the Sychelles had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and up stepped Gyan to place the ball neatly in the top right hand corner of the net, leaving Guinean net minder Naby Diarso sprawling on the turf.
However, the goal seemed to have awakened the visitors who started making inroads into their opponents’ danger zone with Feindounou proving quite a handful for the Ghanaian rearguard with some telling passes.
Guinea was back on level terms in the 64th minute when Oumar Kalabane connected with a well-measured corner kick by Feindounou to silence the thousands of Ghanaian supporters.
With the match destined for a stalemate, Kingston had a chance to relieve the clearly frustrated home fans but the striker, who otherwise had a poor game by his own standards, shot tamely with the goal at his mercy.
With time ticking by and some obviously frustrated fans streaming out of the giant stadium, the whole stadium erupted in pure joy and ecstasy when Portsmouth’s midfielder Sulley Muntari headed powerfully past the stranded Diarso for the what would turn out to be the winning goal. Final score: Ghana 2 – 1 Guinea.
Chelsea’s midfield dynamo Michael Essien, who had a quiet game by his own standards but showed some deft touches in patches, was voted man of the match.
The victory placed the Black Stars on top of Group A with the other group contenders Namibia and Morocco pitted against each other at the same venue later today.