First leg Algeria 2023 final qualifier: Black Galaxies overcome Nigeria’s CHAN Eagles

A supremely vintage second half display inspired Ghana’s Black Galaxies to a 2-0 victory over Nigeria’s CHAN Eagles in the first leg final qualifier of the 2023 Championship of African Nations (CHAN) qualifiers at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium yesterday.

Two goals by Hearts of Oak danger-man Afriyie Barnieh and team-mate Seidu Suraj after the break, ensured that the Ghanaians left the pitch with heads held high and handed them an enormous advantage ahead of the Abuja return.

The Galaxies have missed out on the CHAN tournament in the last three editions – and that may have galvanised them to produce a fierce start under the instructions of Beninese centre referee Issa Mouhamed.

They knew they must grind a comfortable result before heading for the more scorching return in the 60,491-capacity MKO Abiola National Stadium in Abuja.

Playing to some luscious midfield football, the Galaxies nearly snatched the initiative as early as the fourth minute when Augustine Randolph petered over a dream cross from the right, but forwards Jonathan Attuquaye and Barnieh were a shade late to thump the opportunity home.

It was the closest the Ghanaians had come to opening their accounts in a half that their opponents created better scoring chances, earning four corner-kicks (7th, 21st, 28th and 35th) in the process.

Indeed, the well-drilled CHAN Eagles began cautiously, favouring long balls that generally ended up in no man’s land. But once they got into their groove, they became a mouthful – especially with Ghana playing into their hands with gratuitous aerial balls.

Coach Salisu Yusuf and his Eagles also had plans of their own. They attacked in bursts at the slightest opportunity looking for the openings and a possibly decent result to carry to Abuja, hoping to banish the demons that terrorised their senior compatriots – the Super Eagles – on March 30, this year – at the hands of Ghana’s Black Stars.

The Stars had held the Super Eagles to an energy-sapping, nervy 1-1 draw at the same venue, winning the tie on away goals to become the first African country to book a ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Most of the vociferous crowd in Abuja had expected Nigeria to qualify for the Mundial after the first leg of their play-off ended 0-0 in Kumasi. But that was not to be. Rather, angry home fans invaded the pitch and tore anything on sight into shreds – blighting the ‘Jollof derby’ in the process.

This, probably, is what the CHAN Eagles wanted to avert by nicking a famous scoreline on enemy territory to make the return a less arduous undertaking. However, Coach Annor Walker and his boys worked ruthlessly yesterday to ensure that the task for the visitors was going to become more Himalayan than they may have thought.

The substitution of Evans Osei Owusu for David Abanga five minutes before the break worked a lot of magic for the team as they Galaxies began the restart stronger than they did in the opening half. Clearly, Coach Walker may have had some invigorating words during the interval, encouraging his players to be more adventurous.

They were supremely organised and fought for each other – even though they gave away balls under little pressure.

It was evident a goal was coming – and it did land when a hard-pressed Nigerian defender in the 48th minute handled a goal-bound shot from a spectacular build-up from Captain Gladson Awako. Barnieh, who was marked all-afternoon, stepped forward to send goalkeeper Adewale Sunday the wrong way. The stadium roared in salute and that was enough to spark the ‘dare-devils’ in the Galaxies as they poured forward in a search for the double, whilst the Nigerian game slumped drastically – allowing the hosts to have a field day.

Midfielder Suraj put the icing on the cake, stabbing home an 86th-minute rebound – the fruits of a three-man move involving Dennis Korsa and Abanga.

The desperate CHAN Eagles staged last-minute incursions in a bid to reduce the deficit but robust defensive displays from the Galaxies’ rearguard inspired by Konadu Yiadom kept the scoreline intact till the referee’s final signal.

Yesterday’s result may have lacked the visceral intensity of the win against the Squirrels of Benin (4-0), but it cannot be overstated how important this victory was for Coach Walker.

BY JOHN VIGAH

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