Stars fail to grab AFCON ticket in Madagascar

 Ghana Black Stars’ bid to qualify for their 10th successive African Cup of Nations was placed on ice yesterday by Mad­agascar who held the four-time champions to a plucky barren game at the Stade Barea Mahama­sina in Antananarivo.

Though the Stars, who are on nine points, retained leadership position in Group E with that result, their performance was nearly white-bread and fell below expectation.

It was an overwhelming victory for Ghana when the two teams clashed a year ago at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium as the Stars swept their opponents away with a 3-0 scoreline. Ghanaians may have anticipated a similar victory yesterday against the Malagasy to seal qualification. Not this time!

Though eliminated from the qualifying campaign with just a solitary point going into yesterday’s tie, the Malagasy played as though they needed the result for a lifeline. It was evident their main aim was to evade defeat against Ghana, so they could bow out with their heads held high. They succeeded.

Indeed, ahead of the game, Madagascar’s Barea had lost three, drawn one – conceding nine goals and scoring one. Evidently, this was not a record that the 2019 Na­tions Cup quarter-finalists would be proud of. It was the reason they began the afternoon on a tamed fashion – warming up vigorous­ly into the afternoon, and never looked back.

It took about half an hour for the home team to find their rhythm. And, when they did, they were a lovely sight to behold as they strung some sweet passes together, showing quality on the ball and creating a lot of anxious moments for the Ghanaian rear.

Despite their show of bravado, the Malagasy men employed some rough-house tactics in a bid to frustrate the Ghanaians. Jean Ro­mario Baggio Rakotoharisoa, for instance, was yellow-carded for a crude challenge on Captain Andre Ayew in the 26th minute. It was their style whenever the going was getting tough.

Madagascar nearly snatched the lead after 31 minutes, but Dorian Bertrand lamely shot into the side of the net.

Ghana had their first shot on target after 56 minutes when Thomas Partey rifled a fierce freek­ick after Jordan Ayew was fouled a few metres outside the area.

Coach Chris Hughton made his first substitution after taking out overzealous Kamara Deen Sulemana for debutante Ernest Nuamah in the 62nd. Nuamah showed some good form shortly after coming on.

Madagascar had their first corner in the 71st minute – fol­lowed quickly by two others in a one-minute blitz – with goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi punching away the dangers.

Substitute Mohammed Kudus, who came on for Jordan Ayew in the 79th minute was denied a clear penalty on the 90th minute mark after being scooped off the turf. The ‘soiled’ player protested in vain.

Sunday’s draw means that Ghana would have to avoid defeat in their final game against third-placed Central African Republic, who have accumulated seven points, to secure ticket to Africa’s flagship football event in Cote d’Ivoire, next January.


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