The Cranes pay the penalty as Ayew beats Onyango

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

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

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