By Carlos Kambaekwa in Accra, Ghana
Hosts Ghana virtually booked their place in the quarterfinals of the 26th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations under way in Ghana when the Black Stars defeated a gutsy Namibian outfit by a solitary goal at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra last night.
The hosts took the game to their opponents from the onset and pinned the Namibians in their own half for the better part of the first 20 minutes with Chelsea’s Michael Essien dictating matters in the middle of the park.
The Namibians made three changes to the team that started against Morocco in their opening Group A match on Monday with defender Hartman Toromba coming in for stand-in right-back Lazarus Kaimbi and Sydney Plaatjies replacing the ineffective Franklin April, while Athiel Mbaha reclaimed his position between the sticks at the expense of butterfingered Zico Shaningayamwe.
Mbaha responded positively and made a breathtaking double save at the feet of Quincy Abeyie Owusu in the 10th minute.
The Warriors also made some positional changes with Jamunovandu Ngatjizeko switching to the problematic left back position – making way for Plaatjies in the midfield.
Both Plaatjies and Toromba were suspended for the Warriors’ opening match against the Atlas Lions of Morocco which the Namibians lost by 5 goals to 1.
With a partisan crowd behind them, the Black Stars started gaining momentum with Essien at the heart of their many attacks but the Namibian rearguard marshalled by Toromba stood firm as they thwarted everything thrown at them.
Plaatjies tested the Ghanaian goalkeeper with a well-measured free kick from the edge of the penalty box in the 16th minute but the delivery lacked power and sailed safely into the waiting hands of Richard Kingson.
A minute later, burly striker Manuel Agogo powered his way through a cluster of defenders and shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
In one of their rare ventures into their opponents’ territory, Rudolph Bester shook off some attention from the Black Stars captain John Mensah and released Brian Brendell on the right but the hard working midfielder shot tamely and the ball went harmlessly past the upright with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Agogo finally put the hosts in the lead with 5 minutes left before the changeover with an easy tap in from close range after Tunisian referee Kacem Bennaceur failed to spot an infringement on a Namibian defender earlier on – an incident that led to the Namibian defence losing concentration in the process.
The Namibians came out smoking in the second half with Jacobs finding holes in the Ghanaian defence with some splitting passes as he dispatched Brendell clear in quick succession but the Civics’ target man rushed his shot on both occasions and missed the target.
Namibian coach Arie Schans pulled off Plaatjies for Kaimbi and the move immediately bore fruit as it allowed Jacobs to slot back into his favourite midfield position where the classy midfielder started spreading passes at will – leaving the highly rated Black Stars’ skipper Mensah and co-defenders in total disarray.
With time running out and the Warriors searching for the elusive equalizer, the troublesome but wasteful Brendell made way for Letu Shatimwene but the hosts held on as they resorted to peppering the Namibian rearguard with long balls.
Makeshift left back Ngatjizeko played a blinder and bottled the highly rated Laryea Kingston – forcing coach Claude Leroy to withdraw the striker late in the second half.
Mathematically, the Warriors cannot progress to the quarterfinals of the 3-week tourney, but the Warriors certainly gave a good account of themselves and can take solace from the fact that they played their opening match against Morocco without three of their stalwarts.
The Warriors play their last match in the Group stages against Guinea in Sekondi on Monday.
Guinea defeated Morocco by 3 goals to 1 in the other Group-A match last night after narrowly losing to Ghana in their opening match.