GHANA’S search for their first ANC (African Nations Cup) trophy in nearly 30 years goes on after the gallant Black Stars were beaten in an unspectacular final by a determined Egypt 1-0, in front of a 50,000 sell-out crowd in Luanda.
An 85 minute strike by Mohamed Nagy, nicknamed ‘Geddo’, proved to be a heartbreaking late sucker-punch for the Black Stars, cruelly robbing the young side of the extra-time period that their relentless defending throughout the 90 minutes deserved.
Before the match, Ghanaian Head Coach Milovan Rajevac dismissed the concerns of the fans and press alike, who expressed their worry that his youthful side lacked the experience and star quality to overcome the tour-de-force of attacking flair that had been Egypt at the this year’s tournament. The Serbian told the media: “People are saying we need to score at least two goals against Egypt to win, but I say we only need to score half a goal more than them to win the title
“Egypt are a very polished team. They have been playing together for a long time and their coach has also been there a long time.
Rajevac added: “Egypt are favourites. They’ve won the last two titles, but we’re not thinking about that. What’s more important, playing beautiful football or the result?”
True to his word, Rajevac’s bullish and apologetic attitude was prominent from the first second of the match, the Black Stars setting out their stall to play a defensive game with 10 men behind the ball, leaving striker Asamoah Gyan to fend for the scraps of attacking chances alone.
The cautious approach demonstrated its purpose early on with the Pharoahs seemingly surprised and frustrated by their inability to break down the energetic Ghanaians. The Egyptians best chance of the opening minutes was a limp long-range effort. Ahmed Hassan lined up a shot from 30 yards-out, but the ball sailed high over ‘keeper Richard Kingson’s net, much to the annoyance of the passionate and vocal support of the Pharaohs’ fans that filled the stadium.
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Hans Sarpei safeguards the ball from a threatening Emad Moteab.
Gyan then had his first chance to put his name on the score-sheet minutes later, but his drive from a free kick deflected wide for a corner kick. From the resulting set piece, Gyan attempted an outrageous overhead kick, but once more the striker couldn’t find the net as his flamboyant effort was sent harmlessly out of play.
Hassan tried his luck again 12 minutes in, with the midfielder and Egypt captain driving a dipping strike at goal from all of 30 yards-out. The shot proved to be fruitless though, as the Pharaohs struggled to find a foothold in the Black Stars defence.
A cagey match limited real attacking promise early on. Gyan in particular looked like a P.O.W trapped behind enemy lines in the Egypt defence. The striker looked on helplessly whilst his compatriots fought numerous battles in the midfield and Ghanaian defence. André Ayew’s speed was proving a worry for the Pharaohs but Ghana lacked the cutting edge to find the space to set-up any incisive chances.
After a series of lovely linking passes, Kwadwo Asamoah jinked between Egyptians before finding the space to take a pop shot at goal. The midfielder has a noted eye for goal but his attempt form 25 yards never worried Essam El-Hadary, who put his body behind the ball to gratefully receive the tame effort.
With the first half coming to an end, Egypt piled into the Ghana half but despite their strength in numbers, the Pharaohs came no closer to breaking the deadlock. The Egyptians, frustrated by Ghana’s resilience gave up on playing the free flowing football of previous rounds, instead resorting to a string of languished crosses which never worried the Black Stars back ‘eight’.
KEEP YOUR HEAD: Agyemang Opoku fights for the ball in the Egyptian half.
Not long after the restart, Agyemang Opoku found himself lucky to stay on the pitch after hacking down Ahmed El-Muhammadi. The 20 year-old dived into an awful two footed lunge but the referee only brandished the yellow card, incensing an Egyptian bench which demanded harsher punishment.
Opoku then made an impact for the right reasons minutes later. The striker latched onto a misplaced pass to burst through on goal. El-Muhammadi was forced to bring Opoku down just outside the box which saw the defender then pick up his first booking. Gyan stepped over the free kick, before whipping it at goal, forcing a good save from ‘keeper El-Hadary.
67 minutes in, Asamoah dribbled between three opponents before seeing his effort smash into an onrushing defender. As a result, a rare counter-attack materialised for Egypt, but the defence was able to sniff out Meteb at the last moment. The Pharaohs then had a penalty shout dismissed by the Malian referee after Hassan fell while trying to head a cross.
The tournament’s leading scorer Geddo made his entrance 70 minutes in, the impressive talisman replacing a disappointing Meteb. A Gyan free-kick 15 minutes later, failed to hit the net, instead dropping kindly for the Egyptian defence. With Ghana stretched, the Pharoahs raced the ball forward. Geddo and Zidan played a neat one-two before Geddo looked up from the edge of the box and curled the ball into the corner of the net.
The stadium erupted with noise as a shocked Ghana rued their one defence slip-up of the match. Time was against the Black Stars to respond, and the youthful side could not reply despite their efforts. The referee called time on the 2010 ANC, allowing the Egyptian bench to storm to the pitch to celebrate with the players. Rajevac attempted to console a gutted Black Stars side, but his young team were clearly devastated at the loss despite their fantastic showing at this month’s tournament.
DEJECTED: Ghana players think what might have been as Egypt celebrate their third ANC trophy in a row.
Rajevac stated post match: “We were comfortable and had the game under control and everything was functioning well. We played methodical and cautiously but today we conceded a goal after a silly mistake.”