Lacklustre Stars fall to Atlas Lions in AFCON opener

Ghana’s Black Stars started their AFCON 2021 campaign in Cameroon on a shaky note, losing 1-0 to the Atlas Lions of Morocco in their Group C opener yesterday.

It took the Lions 82 minutes to break the Stars as Coufal smashed home the only goal of the match from a goalmouth melee.

• Morocco’s forward Sofiane Boufal celebrates after scoring a
goal during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match
between Morrocco and Ghana at Ahmadou-Ahidjoe stadium

They were indeed the better side in a game that saw the Black Stars register only five goals on target with the Moroccans registering 12 to also stretch their head-to-head advantage over Ghana.

Ghana started on an impressive note, earning the first corner kick of the afternoon but the resultant kick was cleared by the Moroccan defence.

With Ghana dominating the early exchanges, they tormented the Moroccans and had two other corner kicks by the fourth minute but the taller and physically endowed Moroccan defencemen dealt with the danger.

The first real threat for the Moroccans came in the 12th minute when a stray pass from Thomas Partey, who endured a difficult afternoon, was intercepted by the Moroccans who delivered a long drive which Ghana keeper Joseph Wollacot saved but with some difficulty.

Alexander Djiku got the first yellow card in the 15th minute after a reckless challenge on a Moroccan attacker while Morocco’s Watford defender, Masina whose challenge on Joseph Paintsil was also adjudged a risky one and earned a yellow card for.

With the Moroccans massing up in midfield, the Stars attacked through the wings where Kamal Deen Suleymana proved a force on the left wing but the final delivery was always a problem.

The Moroccans came in strongly from the 25th minute, catching the Stars on the counter with Coufal and Abouhklal always a thorn in the Stars defence.

Skipper of the Moroccans, Saiss went very close to snatching the leader in the 35th minute when he missed narrowly with a header from a free kick close to the Stars goal with goalkeeper Wollacot beaten.

Botswana referee Joshua Bondo ignored a call for penalty by the Ghanaians after skipper Andre Ayew went down under a challenge from his Moroccan marker on the stroke of half time.

The second half begun with the Stars under intense pressure and conceding a number of fouls in the early stages of the half.

Ghana was lucky to escape in the 48th minute when Coufal robbed Jordan Ayew of possession and delivered a curler that filed past the face of goal.

The Moroccans maintained the pressure on the Ghanaians and bombarded Ghana’s goal area with shots at goal.

But Ghana broke free in the 52nd minute as Paintsil was put through with a long pass but his final pass to Jordan was blocked by the Moroccan defence.

Ghana earned a corner kick in the 56th minute as Jordan was put through on the right, setting Andre Ayew up in the Moroccan area but the chance was cleared by Saiss to corner which was wasted.

With the pressure turning on the Moroccans, they massed up in the midfield and resorted to long drives to their forwards; a strategy that forced the Ghanaian defensive pair of Djiku and Amartey to stay at the back.

Paintsil created Ghana’s best chance in the 72nd minute when he curled into the Moroccan goal, attracting a brilliant save to corner but was wasted again.

The Stars followed up with another free kick in a good area but once again, Ghana failed to utilize any of the set pieces that fell to them.

The game became a ding dong affair with Ghana enjoying greater possession but the Moroccans threatened the Stars area the more.

Coufal broke the deadlock on the 82nd minute when he latched on a loose ball in the Stars area to fire home the opener.

It followed a melee in the Ghana area which the defence failed to clear. A final attempt by Partey to clear rather served the ball on the plate for Coufal to smash home to leave the Stars with a tall order for qualification with two games to play.

Coach Milovan Rajevac effected quick substitution to rescue the points; bringing on Benjamin Tetteh, Kofi Kyere and Fatawu Issahaku for Paintsil, Jordan and Kamaldeen but it was the Moroccans who nearly added a second but for a wonderful save from Wollacot.

BY ANDREW NORTEY

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