Ghana scored late at the Caroline Feye Stadium in Mbour to qualify for the 2015 World Youth Championship in New Zealand and stay on course for their third African title at U-20 level in a tightly contested game on Thursday night.
Ghana coach, Sellas Tetteh was spot on when he admitted it had been difficult even though his joy at qualification was obvious. “I am happy to seal qualification but I tell you it wasn’t an easy game.”
With Black Stars boss, Avram Grant in the stands, the Black Satellites showed great spirit by coming back from a first minute goal to equalise first through a stunning Asiedu Attobrah strike before Samuel Afful emerged from the bench to score the vital winner six minutes from time.
It was a display that combined grit, determination and skill but one that looked on the edge for long spells too given the stiff competition from the Zambians.
Aware that defeat will send both they and South Africa home, Zambia got the absolutely perfect start when Dave Daka made the most of hesitant defending on the edge of the Ghana box to hit a low drive beyond the outstretched arms of Mutawalaiki in goal for the Black Satellites.
Ghana-Zambia affairs at senior level have become intense and competitive after their famous semi final win enroute to a superb Nations Cup triumph in Gabon three years ago and the meeting in Mbour had a similar edge about it.
Mali had come from behind to beat South Africa 2-1 and put one foot not only into the semi final but in the World Youth Championship. That result also meant that a Ghana win would send the Black Satellites and Malians through even before their meeting on Sunday and eliminate the two southern African teams. Zambia’s start was clear evidence that they were just not prepared to let that happen.
The goal gave them belief too and for much of the first half they were the dominant side, dictating the terms of play and dragging the Black Satellites all over. Soon Clifford Aboagye was getting a lot more on the ball and with that Ghana begun to have a say in the game.
Asiedu Attobrah capped a period of sustained pressure by curling in a stunning beauty after cutting in from the right before producing an outstanding finish with the left foot to bring Ghana on level pegging. While the goal was purely down to individual brilliance, there was also a measure of slackness about the Zambia defending especially in allowing Ghana to take the freekick that fed Attobrah as the momentarily went to sleep.
Zambia should have gone into the break 2-1 up though but were denied by a poor refereeing decision that denied what was a clear goal.
Goalkeeper Mutawakilu got away with a horrible piece of goalkeeping when Zambia’s goal was called for offside. Replays showed the assistant referee got it wrong and that Patrick Ngoma was well on side when he profited from Mutawalaiki’s weak clearance to find the net. The goal should have stood and while the Zambians were calm about it on the field, their football association president Kalusha Bwalya took to Twitter to protest with the tweet “Patrick Ngoma was onside for that goal! Come on”
It was a decision that would prove costly as the Satellites looked determined to take all three points and prevent any final group game nerves and piled on the pressure. Aboagye struck a free kick into the wall and twice Bernard Tetteh forced Mangani Banda into saves from powerful headers. Boyd Mkandawire then produced a top notch tackle to deny Yaw Yeboah a shot at goal after he had sprinted into the 18 yard box before Yeboah thought he had a penalty following a challenge on him by Alex Mwamba.
The Zambians were not in defensive mode throughout in the second half however and seemed a real threat when their star man Charles Zulu broke down the left side. His crosses were clearly troubling Ghana especially with Mutawakila’s uncertain handling.
It did not matter from a Ghanaian perspective because they would go on to score the winner with a typical piece of superb passing play. Aboagye was at the center of it again, as he slipped a through ball through to Afful who stepped back on side. And he took the goal well, slipping it into the net to spark wild celebration on the bench.
It is a goal that would have been met with a lot of joy in the Mali camp too given that it sends both them and Ghana through to the world championship in New Zealand even before their meeting on Sunday. That game now may well be a battle to determine who avoids the hugely impressive Nigeria in the semi-finals.
Afful’s goal would also have added to the legend of Sellas Tetteh who will now manage a Ghana side for a third time at the World Youth Championship.