Ghana Black Stars put up a compellingly radiating performance to beat South Korea 2-1 in their second Group H World Cup game at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan yesterday.
The combatively-fought victory, clutched on a riveting afternoon of football, reignited the team’s hopes of advancing to the next stage of the competition after their opening 3-2 loss to Portugal.
The result was what the Stars needed heading into the nerve-jangling ‘killer’ game with ‘sworn enemies’ Uruguay at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah on Friday, December 2.
Exotic goals from two Mohammeds – central defender Salisu and attacking midfielder Kudus, who struck a double, set the 40,000-capacity edifice ablaze as the enchanting Ghanaian fans drummed, sang, clapped and danced in salute of the gallant team.
Ghana had enjoyed the lion’s share heading into yesterday’s game – beating their opponents in three of the four previous occasions that their paths crossed in friendlies. But the Koreans were determined to prove to Ghana they were a different entity this time around.
Indeed, in the first quarter of the afternoon, it was clear the game would turn into a long row to hoe for Ghana as the Koreans totally dominated and held the midfield by the scruff of the neck. It was as if the Stars had brought a knife to a gun fight.
However, in Ghana’s moments of desperation where they conceded seven corners by the 16th minute mark, they defended stoically and refused to give in – even when it was obvious their game was running on fumes.
It took nearly 20 minutes for the 2010 quarter-finalists to warm themselves into the afternoon.
However, just as many were wondering where the inspiration for Ghana would spring from, the 23-year old Salisu popped up to crack home the opening goal in the 24th minute past goalkeeper Kim SeungGyu – after Jordan Ayew’s superlative free-kick caught fire in the Korea area.
The Stars’ game was now on fire and 10 minutes later, Kudus would break free from a tight marking in the box to conjure a glancing header from a Jordan Ayew-spectacular right-footed in-swinger for a 2-0 Ghana lead.
The Koreans were now confused after falling behind and looked like a lost ball in high weeds. InakiWillians could have extended the lead in the 31st minute after producing great control on the left. But when all were expecting him to crack a shot at goal, he fizzled it as the Stars took the lead into the break.
Under the instructions of their Portuguese coach – Paulo Bento, the Koreans returned from the salt mine full of piss and vinegar – wanting to slice one back early. The Asians, this time, calculated their steps coming forward – knowing how dangerous their opponents could be.
The stain on the Koreans’ record is that they have suffered three first round exits in their last four World Cup campaigns and wanted to avert defeat heading into their final game with Uruguay.
Ghana’s most-criticised goalkeeper, Lawrence Ati-Zigi – the nation’s third goalkeeper who got the start due to injuries to the two keepers in front of him – JoojoWallocott and Richard Ofori, pulled a stunning save in the 52nd minute to deny the Koreans who had opened fire on the Stars.
Skipper Andre Ayew treaded a through pass meant for Williams two minutes later but it was cut off to corner before he could unleash it home.
The hardworking Koreans – inspired by Tottenham’s Heung-min Son, who played with a mask to protect his fractured eye socket, reduced the deficit in the 57th minute. Tariq Lamptey lost possession of the ball to Lee Kang-in whose cross was finished off by Cho Gue-sung – who got in front of Salisu to head in from close range, leaving Ati-Zigi with no chance.
The roars that greeted that goal had hardly died down than the Koreans came on level terms to the surprise of the Ghanaian crowd – Cho slicing between two Ghana defenders to finish off another left-footed dream cross from Jin-su Kim.
The hour-mark goal was a near replica of the two-minute-blitz goals they conceded against Portugal.
The Koreans were supremely motivated by the leveler and were now looking for the illusive winner.
However, in the 68th minute, Gideon Mensah scampered the down the left after being fed by Thomas Partey. The left-back located Williams who miscued for Kudus to slash home the winning goal past goalkeeper – and a personal double, to make it 3-2.
The Ghanaians had to fend off a heart-torturing sustained pressure from the Asian giants before Referee Anthony Taylor brought proceeding to an end after 10 minutes of time-added.
Frustrated Korea Coach Bento was shown the exit after the final whistle as he burst into an exchange with the referee – believing his side deserved a corner-kick before the final signal.
Yesterday’s victory was Ghana’s first since losing to Uruguay at the quarter-final stage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In the 2014 edition in Brazil, they slumped 2-1 in their opening game against USA, shared the spoils with eventual winners Germany (2-2) before bowing 1-2 to Portugal to crash out.
Defeat against South Korea would have seen Ghana becoming the second after host nation Qatar to pack home. Heartily, the Stars survived it and are in for to compete for glory.
FROM JOHN VIGAH, DOHA-QATAR
(Courtesy: Ministry of Youth and Sports)