Perfect start for Ghana in Nations Cup

Portsmouth midfielder Sulley Muntari struck in the last minute to lift hosts Ghana to a 2-1 win against Guinea in the opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations in Accra on Sunday.

Udinese forward Asamoah Gyan put Ghana in front from the penalty spot early in the second half, only for Guinea’s Oumar Kalabane to equalise.

But just as it looked as though the hosts would have to settle for a share of the points, up popped Muntari with a long-range, left-footed, angled shot to send the capacity crowd at the 44 000-seater Ohene Djan Stadium wild.

Ghana’s Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, given the fair-play award, said: “It’s a good start for us. The game was very difficult but we’re happy we won. This will help our confidence.”

Winning coach Claude le Roy added: “It’s a long way to February 10th [the final], but we knew it was very important to win the opening game.
Now we can concentrate on our next match, against Namibia.”

The sides were all square after the first half, but it was a mystery how Ghana hadn’t scored. Le Roy’s men hit the post three times, and had a goal disallowed and an adventurous overhead scissor-kick edged wide.

Credit for the goalless score line should also go to Guinea goalkeeper Kemoko Camara, who was up to grabbing Muntari’s early dangerous floating shot from the left.

Nottingham Forest’s Junior Agogo then had his head in his hands after his angled header ricocheted off the inside of the far post and away to safety.

Minutes later Gyan, allowed to play despite being sent off in Ghana’s last competitive match against Brazil at the 2006 World Cup for diving, came up with his scissor-kick that inched the wrong side of the far post.

Another shot hit the woodwork before Ghana had the ball in the back of Camara’s net, but Gyan’s effort was disallowed after Seychelles referee Eddy Maillet caught the forward pushing the Guinea defender.

It was Muntari’s turn to test the solidity of the Guinea goal frame in the 40th minute when the Pompey man shot from the left, but again Guinea’s luck held.

Ghana finally got the goal they deserved eight minutes after the break when Kalabane brought down the charging Agogo with Maillet immediately pointing to the spot.

Up stepped Gyan to convert with a curling kick into the top left corner to send a deafening roar into the sky above the packed stadium where Ghana President John Kufuor was watching.

However, in the 65th minute the crowd’s celebrations were cut short when Guinea drew level.

Kalabane made up for his earlier indiscretion when heading straight at Richard Kingston in the Ghana goal, the Birmingham City stopper fumbling the ball over the line.

That left a nerve jangling final quarter of an hour for the hosts who had identified this as a must-win match in their bid for a record-equalling fifth title.

Le Roy brought on Andre Ayew as a late substitute and the move almost proved inspirational as, with his first kick, the Marseille midfielder forced Camara into a brilliant reflex save from close range.

But in the end it was Muntari who saved the day, his 89th-minute shot flying past the diving Camara to give Le Roy and the rest of the crowd the perfect result.—Sapa-AFP

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