GHANA’S hopes of ANC (African Nations Cup) glory were dealt a severe blow as a 10-man Ivory Coast side despatched of the youthful Black Stars 3-1 in Cabinda.
Ghana went into the match with numerous injury problems, forcing head-coach Milovan Rajevac to name a starting line-up which was missing eight first-team regulars. Amongst those not included were midfield maestro Michael Essien and plucky forward Asamoah Gyan, both of whom began the match on the bench.
Despite playing a defensive 4-5-1 formation, Ghana’s youngsters burst out of the blocks against the superstars of the Ivory Coast. Five minutes in, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu launched a thunderous attempt on goal from 20-yards out. The shot beat Elephants ‘keeper Boubacar Barry but unfortunately for the midfielder, skewed just wide of the post.
The Ivory Coast put that early scare out of their minds as their experienced side began to dominate a scrappy midfield battle. Salomon Kalou and Didier Zokora pulled all the strings as they engineered a host of testing through-balls to target man Didier Drogba. The Black Stars defence, lead by Eric Addo, struggled under the incessant pressure of the Elephants’ attack with both Zokora and Gervinho going close in quick succession.
Ghana’s shaky back four was finally unlocked on 23 minutes. Yaya Toure placed a defence splitting pass into the path of winger Kalou, who squared the ball across the box to leave Gervinho with a simple tap-in to finish an excellent, energetic counter-attack.
TEAM PLAY: Gervinho celebrates scoring the opening goal with team-mate Didier Drogba.
A dejected Ghana almost struck back in emphatic fashion 15 minutes later. Midfield favourite Kwadwo Asamoah dummied superbly on the edge of the box before unleashing a stinging strike which Barry did well to palm away.
Asamoah’s shot was a rare highlight of the first half for the Black Stars, as their young side had been left chasing shadows thanks to their sloppy passing and some intelligent play by an inventive Elephants’ midfield. Rajevac attempted to rectify this at the break by bringing on Essien for Moussa Narry, whilst striker Gyan replaced Andre Ayew.
The changes seemed to work as Ghana wrestled control of the midfield from the Ivory Coast in the early exchanges. Essien’s quick passing and alertness in particular, nullified the potent attacking threat of the Elephants and caused the Ivoirians to engage in a series of reckless challenges.
COMEBACK CAPTAIN: Substitute Michael Essien inspires an early second half resurgence from Ghana.
The most reckless of these tackles was Emmanuel Eboué’s two footed lunge on Agyeman Opoku on 55 minutes. Opoku was uninjured in the challenge but Eboué was deservedly given a straight red card by referee Jerome Damon.
With an extra man, Ghana pushed forward for the equaliser. Matthew Amoah neatly flicked up a ball before belting a volley goalwards, however his sublime shot bounced cruelly off the post. Asamoah was too left frustrated when he saw his free-kick fly narrowly wide of the goal.
Despite this glut of Ghanaian possession, the Ivory Coast showed their class by delivering a fatal sucker punch to the Black Stars on 66 minutes. Midfielder Siaka Tiene stepped up from 25-yards-out to curl a lovely free-kick past Ghana ‘keeper Richard Kingson and into the roof of the net.
With the gap now two goals, Ghana’s enthusiasm for the fight back collapsed and the possession swung heavily back in the Elephants’ favour. Rajevac threw on Harrison Afful with 14 minutes left but the youngster had little time to make an impact for the deflated Black Stars. Didier Drogba smashed the final nail in the coffin as he headed home a delicate left wing cross on 90 minutes. The Ivoirian cheers were dampened though as Ghana scored a late consolation, Gyan confidently tucking away a penalty in injury time.
GAME, SET AND MATCH: Didier Drogba celebrates his goal to condemn Ghana to defeat.
However the goal brought about no celebration and the Black Stars left the field of play knowing that victory against Burkina Faso is now required if Ghana are to qualify. After the final whistle, Rajevac paid tribute to an impressive Ivory Coast, saying: “They were more experienced. Quality and experience was the key of Ivory Coast’s team. We must do our best to prepare for the game against Burkina Faso and win it.”
ALL THE GOALS FROM CABINDA