After a six-year hiatus, Ghana’s Black Galaxies finally staged a spirited return to the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) tournament – upstaging Nigeria 5-4 on penalties at the MKO Abiola Sports Stadium on Saturday.
It was a double whammy of ache for Nigeria whose Super Eagles were bowled out from the 2022 Qatar World Cup tournament by their Ghanaian counterparts (Black Stars) at the same venue.
The Galaxies, just like the Black Stars, had to seal qualification the hard way after surrendering a 2-0 first leg advantage at the death – to throw the gut-wrenching evening into the lottery of shoot-out.
Doughty hearts – David Abanga, Umar Bashiru, Jonah Attuquaye, Amos Acheampong and Daniel Afriyie Barnieh charmingly converted for Ghana, whilst substitute Maurice Chukwu saw his penalty kick (Nigera’s third) hit the crossbar to hand the Galaxies a famous result – and a deserved triumphant entry into the 7th Algeria 2023 CHAN.
While the players and officials of Ghana leapt into the air and cart-wheeled in celebration, their hosts slumped onto the turf in downright despondency.
The same turf on March 30, this year, had spewed ‘blood and tears’ for Nigeria when they were held to a pulsating 1-1 draw by the Black Stars, an upshot that booted them out of the Qatar Mundial – the first leg having ended goalless in Kumasi.
The pain of not qualifying for the World Cup was extremely disconcerting for Nigeria to take, and thought that victory over the Galaxies in the CHAN qualifiers, could slightly serve as a pacifier.
Silky forward Afriyie Barnieh and Seidu Suraj offered the Galaxies what appeared to be a mammoth 2-0 advantage in the opening leg CHAN final qualifier at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium last week. However, the CHAN Eagles on Saturday resurrected and staged a stormy finish to cancel the deficit – after a barren opening half.
Nigeria’s Zulkifilu Mohammed reduced the aggregate scoreline in the 76th minute, as they poured forward in search of the second goal leveler which never came until after 90 minutes.
Malian Referee Boubou Traore had added six minutes to the stipulated time with the Ghanaians doing everything possible to hold back the avalanche of onslaughts. And, just as the Galaxies thought they had survived all that the Eagles had thrown at them, Chijioke Akuneto poked home the second goal in the 94th minute to send the entire stadium into raptures.
The Galaxies were temporarily stunned and nearly traumatized; but were able to muster enough gallantry to outkick the Nigerians, setting off wild celebrations on a nerve-jangling evening in Abuja. Abuja again!
Saturday’s tremendous victory takes Ghana to CHAN, having been ‘loudly’ absent in the last three editions of the tournament – while Nigeria would miss the competition back-to-back.
Galaxies Captain Gladson Awako, said in a post-match interview with the Nigerian media that the team deserved to qualify.
“I believe we really worked hard for this and deserve to be in the 2022 CHAN tournament. It’s been eight years now that we have not been able to qualify for this particular tournament.
“But we spoke to ourselves as a group and promised to work on our mentality and go ahead to change the narrative. We worked so hard and I think we have achieved what we planned. I am very happy to be leading this victorious team. It’s not about me alone, but it is teamwork.
“We did this together with the technical crew, the management, as well as our football association,” he said.
BY JOHN VIGAH