Story: Samuel Ebo Kwaitoo
Ghana's Black Stars yesterday revived the nation’s flagging spirits with a 24-carat display against the Atlas Lions of Morocco which guaranteed them a quarter-final berth and a special presidential bonus in the ongoing 26th Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
A 2-0 convincing victory, sealed and delivered before the break, to the satisfaction of the capacity crowd, propelled the Stars to the top of Group A with a clean record, while awaiting a last eight date with either Nigeria Mali or Cote d’Ivoire.
Apparently inspired by President Kufuor's visit to their camp a day before, the entire Ghana team put up a real championship performance throughout the game and walked out of the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium with honour and pride as the overjoyed fans applauded them ceaselessly.
The icing on the cake on that memorable occasion was the crowning of midfield general, Michael Essien, and skipper John Mensah as the Man of the Match and Fair Play Player award winner, respectively.
The result quickly wiped out from the memory of Ghanaians that agonising 1-0 defeat by Morocco which put paid to a successful title defence by Ghana in the 1980 Nations Cup won by Nigeria on home soil.
Playing in front of an expectant home crowd, the Stars, who were determined to impress after their dismal showing against Namibia , were 1-0 up by the 25th minute, courtesy Chelsea star Essien who played his best game yet for Ghana yesterday. Essien, who was a victim of rough play, dazzled the Moroccan defence with a quick dash to connect a Sulley Muntari free kick before goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri could react.
Before the thunderous cheers in the stands could die down, Sulley Muntari followed it up with another stunner a minute to recess, with Essien as the architect this time.
Before then, Asamoah Gyan, who acquitted himself so well and was only denied a goal by an enemy called ill-luck, had whetted the fans’ appetite for more with a great run and a shot which missed the upright by inches.
Though the Stars dominated the first half, the Moroccans, who relied on their usual fast breaks on the flanks, proved to be a threat to the Stars’ defence on many occasions, with Marouane Chamakh and Youssef Hadji leading the attack.
Though the Moroccans came from recess a rejuvenated side with the introduction of Tarik Sektioui in their attack, it was the Stars who continued their dominance in a thrilling half which the spectators enjoyed to the full.
The Stars again seized the midfield with a perfect Essien and young, promising Anthony Annan combination and anytime they decided to move, they did so in telepathy with Asamoah, Manuel Agogo, Quincy and Muntari like a symphony, to the delight of the fans.
No wonder Essien was stretchered off for the second time in the 65th minute, while the smallish Annan had a fair share of the knocks from the Moroccan hatchet men.
When the Ghanaians decided to go for another goal in a two-minute blitz in the 73rd and 74th minutes, Asamoah’s goal-bound header to an Agogo cross hit the mid-section of goalkeeper Lamyaghri coincidentally, while Essien’s unusual left-footer from the edge of the box was tipped to corner by the agile keeper.
When a beautiful bicycle kick from the highly-criticised Asamoah bounced off the crossbar seven minutes to the end, it became clear that he did not have a goal in the game and he, therefore, gave up the fight when he was stretchered off the game four minutes later, only to be replaced by his elder brother, Baffour Gyan.
Andre Ayew and Haminu Draman, who replaced Agogo and Quincy late in the game, hardly made any impact, and when Richard Kingson saved Hadji’s powerful shot in injury time, it became evident that the die was, indeed, cast for the Moroccans to bid goodbye to Ghana 2008.
Ghana: Richard Kingson, John Paintsil, Hans Adu Sarpei, Eric Addo, John Mensah, Anthony Annan, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie/Andre Ayew, Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan/ Baffour Gyan, Manuel ‘Junior’ Agogo, Haminu Dramani and Sulley Muntari