Ghana all but guaranteed their place in the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations after they beat Mali 2-0.
Second half goals from Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew means only a defeat in their last group match will prevent them from progressing into the latter stages of the competition.
Asamoah Gyan celebrates his first goal of the campaign
Coach Goran Stevanovic made three changes to his line-up for the Black Stars second group match. Jonathon Mensah was brought in to replace John Mensah, who was sent off against Botswana, and both Jordan Ayew and Samuel Inkoom were replaced by Kwadwo Asamoah and Alhassan Masahadu respectively. Asamoah Gyan. Who worried Ghana fans by picking up an ankle injury in training, was deemed fit for the match.
Mali made just the one change for their showdown with the Black Stars, with Ousmane Berthe coming in for Mahamadou N’diaye, who was relegated to the bench.
In their first group match Ghana were lucky to win and just before their second game fellow group opponents Guinea thrashed Botswana 6-1 making a win a must so perhaps it was no surprise it was the Black Stars who made the brightest start to the game. In the first 20 minutes the Black Stars were continuously driving forward but just couldn’t break down the Malian defence; Asamoah came the closest with a thunderbolt strike which deflected but Sulley Muntari’s rebound was just a whisker wide.
At the other end Ghana’s young keeper Adam Kwarasey had a scary moment when he misjudged his run to come collect a corner but Mali failed to pounce. Ghana were lucky to still have eleven men on the pitch as television replays showed John Boye showed his studs to Ousmane Berthe as he laid on the deck, perhaps something that will be punished after the game.
It wasn’t until 30 minutes that the team started to light-up with Gyan playing off a cheeky back heel to Muntari but the finish was lacking. Minutes later Asamaoh turned his marker on the edge of the box but again failed to finish as his bullet of a shot went wide.
On 39 minutes Ghana should have again been down to 10 men when Mensah made a thumping challenge on Cheick Diabate but only received a yellow card. The resulting free-kick, just outside the area, was chipped in by Diabate, beat the keeper and hit both posts before rebounding out to Traore who fired just wide.
HALF-TIME: Ghana 0-0 Mali
The second half started off as heated as the first as within two minutes both Adama Tamboura and John Paintsil picked up yellow cards for rush challenge’s. Ten minutes after the break Ghana found the weakness in the Malian team when Ayew zipped in a shot at Diakite, which the Malian goalkeeper spilled, then did well to prevent a follow-up from Gyan.
Finally the tight match was broken on 55 minutes when who else but Asamoah Gyan opened his tally in the competition when he beautifully curled in a free-kick from just outside the area. Five minutes late Mali should have equalised when Kwarasey found himself unmarked in no man’s land and opened the goal up for Maiga to head home, but the striker nodded it just over.
Instead of levelling the match Mali then found themselves caught open on 70 minutes when African Footballer of the Year Andre Ayew found himself on the end of a back-heel by Gyan before wrong-footing the Zebras’ defence then skilfully switching feet and firing home at the near post.
Game over. From that point Ghana settled for the 2-0 lead and defended in numbers to keep hold of the score-line. Mali’s only other chance of the game came in stoppage time when substitute Samba Sow tried his best to get a shot away, but Ghana’s defensive wall stood strong.
FULL-TIME: Ghana 2-0 Mali
This was a much more comfortable performance for the Black Stars as their formidable attacking line began to show why they are one of the best in the competition. Ghana’s only problem seems to be in their discipline, they can’t afford for any more players to get suspended so the team really needs to calm down and keep their cool; maybe this will improve now they can see the finishing line into the next round.
Ghana line-up: Adam Kwarasey, John Paintsil (capt), Alhassan Masahadu, John Boye, Jonathan Mensah, Kwadwo Asamoah, Anthony Annan, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Asamoah Gyan, Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew, Sulley Muntari.
Mali line-up: Soumaila Diakite, Adama Tamboura, Cedric Kante (capt), A. Traore, Cheick Diabate, Modibo Maiga, Seydou Keita, D. Diakite, B. Traore, Samba Diakite, Ousmane Berthe