The Cranes pay the penalty as Ayew beats Onyango
THE BODY language of the players from these two countries before this match started showed the different planets they’re in. Ghana swaggered onto the pitch, hardly exerting themselves as they warmed up for their opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) they’re expected to win after losing in two finals of the last four editions.
The Cranes of Uganda entered the stadium with an extra bounce in their step as this generation was making history, ending an almost four-decade long absence in the Afcon.
Only Denis Onyango, who was wrapped in cotton wool after picking up a groin injury in a friendly against Ivory Coast, took it easy during the warm-up. The reigning Footballer of the Year – Based in Africa, was the first to leave the pitch when his warm-up was done. His teammates joined him a few minutes later. They looked eager to please and anxious for the match to start. That anxiousness and their defensive naivety proved to be their undoing. The Black Stars easily stretched them. Uganda’s defence moved like a wave, all of them marching together for one ball – easily penetrated with the right timing. Onyango found himself having to use his large frame to put off Ghana’s attackers. He did that well in Asamoah Gyan’s two glancing headers and in his brilliant save to deny Christian Atsu late in the second half. But he couldn’t do it against Andre Ayew, from the spot-kick.
That penalty came because of Uganda’s naivety. Isaac Isinde was caught out of position, having left Gyan free behind him. The centre-back pulled Gyan down, leaving referee Joshua Bondo no choice but to award a penalty. Gyan, whose late mother told him not to take penalties again after he missed the one that would have given Africa it’s first taste of the semi-finals at the 2010 World Cup, left the responsibilities to Ayew. “Dede”, who is delighting the continent like his father Abedi Pele did, handed the Black Stars the lead.
This goal gave the Ayew fan club more reason to cheer fthe 27-year-old. Ayew went to them, on the far stand, after he finished his celebration. He urged the fans to make more noise. They obliged.
Despite this venue not being full, the fans who came here created an energetic atmosphere in the city that’s the financial heartbeat of Gabon.
This match was a lot like the goalless draw these two nations played to in Tamale at the start of their 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Uganda’s defence, especially Onyango, earned the Cranes a point in that match. In this encounter, a defensive error cost them three points in a game that had all the makings of a draw.
Both goalkeepers weren’t tested though. When they had to do some work, it was to save shots directed straight at them or just stand and watch the ball go over the bar.
Njabulo Ngidi is in Gabon courtesy of SuperSport