Ghana banish penalty blues and Niger get first point
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Ghana put a series of penalty heartaches behind them, Mali seethed over a controversial decision, Niger collected their first point and DR Congo disappointed Thursday in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mubarak Wakaso from Spanish Liga outfit Espanyol converted a 38th-minute spot kick to give Ghana a 1-0 victory over Mali and DR Congo and Niger drew 0-0 in a Port Elizabeth double-header that offered little excitement.
As in Group A, there is all to play for in the final matches next Monday when leaders Ghana face bottom team Niger at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium while second-place Mali and DR Congo travel east to square off in Durban.
Niger and DR Congo must win to survive the first-round cull while draws will suffice for Ghana and Mali, the beaten semi-finalists at the 2012 tournament in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea.
Ghana have known only heartbreak when it came to penalties in recent years as Asamoah Gyan rattled the crossbar with a last-minute spot kick that allowed Uruguay to go on and win a 2010 World Cup quarterfinal in Johannesburg.
Gyan flopped again last year at a Cup of Nations semifinal in Equatoguinean city Bata with Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene blocking his kick and the Black Stars lost to a late goal.
A torrent of public and media criticism after the Africa Cup defeat led Gyan to temporarily quit international football and the United Arab Emirates-based striker was honoured with the captaincy when he returned late last year.
Wakaso, who was not born when Ghana last conquered Africa 31 years ago in Libya, showed no nerves after Adama Tamboura felled Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and steered a powerful kick over goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa.
Agyemang-Badu came close to breaking the deadlock six minutes earlier by nodding a Wakaso free-kick wide of Samassa, but the ball rebounded to safety off the far post.
The result left Mali furious that the Ivorian referee did not red-card Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda in the sixth minute for handling outside the box with Seydou Keita poised to score.
Dauda escaped with a caution, skipper Keita was just off target from the free-kick, and that was as close as the Eagles came to scoring with the Ghana defence comfortably containing a blunt strike force.
“We were much more tactically disciplined in this game than against DR Congo, but I know we can do a lot better than we did today,” admitted Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah.