Only Group A and Group B have been in action so far, but both got off to a cracking start. Reports will be posted here at Blue Champions as the games continue. So, without further ado, here is what happened, and how in happened, in Ghana for the last two days.
Ghana v. Guinea
Group A favourite, and host country, Ghana took the pitch in Accra Monday against a Guinea team that should have been greatly overmatched. Ghana started looking very impressive but failed to capitalize on early possession to score. Michael Essien whipped a header off the woodwork in the 28th minute. Ghana hit the frame twice more in the first half but failed to do any real damage. The hosts finally snatched the lead on a penalty, smartly taken by Asamoah Gyan.
Guinea were not content to go quiet into that good night and answered back ten minutes later when Oumar Kalabane, the same player who had surrendered the penalty, netted his first of the competition. A draw was not in the cards for Guinea however. Sulley Muntari hit a rod of a shot from 25 yards out in the final minute to set off a wild celebration and seal a win for the Black Stars. Muntari, perhaps caught up in the moment, claimed his goal would have the power to heal the sick and cause them to “rise from their hospital beds.” The Red Cross is yet to confirm this statement.
Chelsea Spotlight: Essien was effective, if not brilliant, all game. His forceful running in the last 15 minutes gave Ghana the attacking edge needed for the win. It was an enticing glimpse into his massive supply of talent.
Morocco v. Namibia
This game lacked the excitement stirred by the Ghana match. Soufiane Alloudi put the game on ice in the 28th minute when he headed in his third goal. Alloudi scored in the first minute, again within four minutes and then administered the final blow in the 28th. Namibia’s Brave Warriors fought back briefly to make the game 2-1 but were simply overmatched. Two more goals gave Morocco the convincing 5-1 win in a game that was never close.
Ivory Coast v. Nigeria
Salomon Kalou proved to be unfazed by the searing heat as he scored the lone goal of a hotly contested match to begin Group B play. The long grass seemed to have slowed the pace of play between two teams that were not at their best anyway. The first half was decidedly in favour of Nigeria but the defenders of the Ivory Coast seemed to arrive in the nick time and time again.
In the second half Yakubu and Obafemi Martins threatened early but failed to convert. The Super Eagles would finally lose control of the match when Portsmouth forward Kanu was stretchered off. Kanu had been miserable all day but his departure seemed to sap the energy from Nigeria. Kalou finally broke through in the 66th with the kind of run for which the Chelsea supporters have yearned. Kalou’s goal was a real beauty that saw the Ivorian slice incisively in from the right channel before leaping to avoid a sliding challenge and firing into the net. This set off a celebration that also resembled a reunion of the long lost and didn’t end until Kalou was finally pulled from a feeling resisting Didier Drogba. Never let it be said that there is no passion in African football. Nigeria flailed for a goal late but were not rewarded, the game belonged to the Kalou-less one.
Chelsea Spotlight: While Kalou was active and hard working all night, Didier Drogba was not. Drogba looked a shadow of himself and a lot like a man who has rushed back from surgery. It was, at best, unsettling to watch. John Mikel Obi represented the Blues for Nigeria and did so passingly well. He was never a major factor in a game that was less than compelling. He did manage to go the entire match without a leaping, two footed tackle so that was some relief. Mikel lashed out at teammates after the game for failing to concentrate and blamed the back line for the lapse that allowed the Kalou goal.
Mali v. Benin
What to say about this game. Benin came in featuring no major names and a 37 year old player coach from a Swiss league. Mali featured three La Liga players and former EPL player Frederic Kanoute. The Squirrels, however, were not put off by the tremendous gap in class and played the first half like a worthy opponent. Indeed, Benin had a chance to go ahead early but missed an open net. From then, fortune seemed to slowly turn.
Mali could not take advantage of their control until the 49th minute when Kanoute knocked home a penalty. Benin went to a more attacking mode shortly thereafter but the class of Mali began to show. Despite the best efforts of the Benian squad, points were not in the cards. Benin has never won an ANC game and, with Nigeria and the Ivory Coast waiting, this may not be the year they end that drought.
News and notes: The Mali/Benin tie was delayed by a light failure in the stadium. For nearly 20 minutes the players tried to stay loose while the problem was addressed… Michael Essien is looking forward to play Didier Drogba in a dream final saying, “I know some of his defects.”… Nigeria (19) is the highest ranked team in the tournament, Namibia (119) is the lowest.
Reports to continue.