Who cares if Ghana were severely depleted? Ivoirian Coach Vahid Halilhodži? certainly doesn’t, after the ‘Elephants’ triumphed 3-1, becoming the first side to qualify for the quarter-finals in the process. Despite being reduced to ten men following the dismissal of Emmanuel Eboue, the Ivory Coast dominated the ‘Black Stars’ from start to finish, with goals from Gervinho, Tiene, and Didier Drogba, with Asamoah Gyan converting a stoppage-time consolation for Ghana.
Halilhodži? made one change from the side that failed to impress against a resilient Burkinabe side, with Saloman Kalou replacing the previously wasteful Bakary Kone. In contrast, Ghana were missing so many regular starters that Wigan ‘keeper Richard Kingson – their fourth choice captain – took the armband, until Michael Essien came on in the second half.
- Chelsea’s Kalou replaced Kone in the starting XI
Despite its’ pre-match hype as a free-flowing entertaining affair, the game started fairly slowly with both sides keen to avoid the concession of an early goal. But when the game did get going, it was a cracker. The Ghanaians came the closest to scoring early on, with a fizzing Agyemang Badu free-kick going inches wide. Halilhodži?’s side looked nervous, with the knowledge that a defeat would almost certainly send them crashing to an embarrassing group stage exit. However, any nerves the ‘Elephants’ had were killed off when they took the lead. Soaking up Ghanaian pressure, Yaya Toure took control of the ball and a beautiful move saw Gervinho with the simple task of firing home from 15 yards. Now, it was the ‘Black Stars’ under pressure. And that pressure began to tell, with Kingson saving efforts from Drogba, Kalou, and Tiene. Ghana did have one decent effort before half-time, with Boubacar Barry diving to his left to superbly parry a long range Kwadwo Asamoah drive.
- Gervinho opened the scoring with a contender for ‘Team Goal of the Tournament’
As the second half recommenced, Ghana looked to tilt the balance back in their favour. The introduction of Chelsea’s Essien broke the Ivoirians’ attacking intent, and with the pitch cutting up at an alarming rate the Ghanaians should have equalised. Asamoah’s cross found Matthew Amoah, but his stinging volley struck the post and went wide, with Barry helpless in the Ivoirian goal. The ‘Black Stars’ hopes were further raised soon after, when Eboue was dismissed following a vicious tackle from behind on Opoku Agyemang. But Ghana could not take advantage of their extra man, and soon it was the ‘Elephants’ who doubled their lead. Essien gave away a needless free-kick, and Saka Tiene curled a beautiful shot into the roof of the net from a tough angle. The Ivoirian fans celebrated; it seemed as though they had qualified. This was confirmed in the 90th minute, as Drogba headed in a delightful cross after skilful work from the substitute Keita, and although Asamoah Gyan converted from the spot after a contentious foul by Sol Bamba, it was the Ivoirians’ day.
- Didier Drogba celebrates scoring the Ivoirians’ third goal
After the match, Vahid Halilhodži? told goal.com ‘I am delighted that we have qualified, and delighted with the way we performed tonight. The players are a credit to their nation.’ And with no game to play on Tuesday following the Togolese ambush, the ‘Elephants’ can now focus on preparing for their quarter-final clash with Group A’s runner-up.
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