John Mensah will be grabbing the headlines for both the right and wrong reasons after he scored but was then sent off leaving his side in an exposed situation.
Captain John Mensah put the Black Stars ahead in the first half, burying an in-swinging corner from close range. But the skipper earned himself a red card just after the hour mark, bringing down Jerome Ramatlhakwane, with the Zebras striker through on goal.
In a game of few chances, Ghana dominated possession, but struggled to break down their committed opponents, who were making their debut at the tournament.
Before the game Black Stars coach Goran Stefanovic said he was considering resting several players as subsequent group games against Mali and Guinea are expected to be more challenging but in the end a full strength Ghana squad was named including Asamoah Gyan who was expected to miss out. Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and John Boye made their Nations Cup debuts; Boye perhaps a surprise addition in place of Jonathan Mensah. Jordan Ayew joined his brother Dede Ayew in the Black Stars line-up.
The Zebras went into their first ever match in the finals with serious injury problems, the most obvious being to their inspirational forward Joel Mogorosi, who broke his arm in training last week. Instead currently unattached striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane, who had regained full match fitness, started. The Zebras were looking to him for inspiration, in place of Botswana legend Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane, who was suspended for the game after picking up two yellow cards.
It was Botswana who started the game in a light blue kit, very similar to the white kit Ghana were wearing, yet it was Ghana who had the better of the early possession popping the ball about. The first shot of the game came on four minutes in from Gyan, but it was a feeble header wide following a freekick from the left. However Botswana were diligent and disciplined, their first proper foray forward came on eight minutes but saw Patrick Motsepe snatch at the ball and send it high and wide.
Perhaps like other AFCON games so far the opening was proving to be quite tame. Ghana were easily passing the ball around but Botswana weren’t giving them much space. All of Ghana’s play was confined to the midfield area as Botswana just wouldn’t let them through but on the 25th minute the deadlock was broken by the favourites. An in swinging corner completely evaded the Zebras’ defence and was flicked on by Gyan and finally bundled home from close range by John Mensah.
Ghana continued to press forward. The two frontmen Gyan and Jordan Ayew were linking up well, with Gyan attempting to latch onto a through ball from the 20-year-old Ayew, and then Ayew himself attempting a shot from outside the box, but Marumo gathered comfortably. Gyan then broke into the box himself from the right, before firing one wide of the near post. Despite all the chances the score remained 1-0 at half-time.
Botswana nearly equalised against the run of play after the restart, with Boye making an acrobatic goal-line clearance to deny a Motsepe header at the far post. It was now Botswana who were having the better of the chances with both Penyo Mongala and Moemedi Moatlhaping looking lively but the Ghanaian defence was proving to be a strong unit.
It was after yet another great run forward that the game changed on 66 minutes. Jerome Ramatlhakwane pounced on a slack defensive header by Anthony Annan and raced through on goal only to be brought down just outside the box by a last ditch tackle from Mensah. Lucky for Ghana the tackle was outside the box or a penalty would have been given but unluckily from Ghana Mensah had prevented a goal-scoring opportunity and was consequently shown a straight red card.
Botswana wasted the resulting free kick but with Ghana down to 10 men for the final 25 minutes and missing their captain, the Zebras had a very good chance to get back into the tie. The Black Stars did find themselves a bit more on the back foot as they were forced to defend in numbers to face to constant Botswana attacking but the Zebras could not take advantage of their numerical superiority as the final minutes of the game trickled away.
Final score: Ghana 1-0 Botswana
So in the end in a game where Ghana were supposed to show their dominance in the competition by destroying their opponents things didn’t quite live up to expectations. Ghana will be happy and relieved with that, but they enjoyed the better chances, although they will need to improve in their next game against Mali, especially if they plan to win the tournament…
Ghana: Adam Kwarasey, John Paintsil, Samuel Inkoom, John Boye, John Mensah, Anthony Annan, Jordan Ayew, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Asamoah Gyan, Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew, Sulley Muntari
Botswana: Modiri Marumo, Ndiyapo Letsholathebe, Misimanegape Ramohibidu, Mompathi Thuma, Ofentse Nato, Penyo Mongala, Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Moemedi Moatlhaping, Patrick Motsepe, Mogogi Gabonamong, Thsepo Motlhabankwe