TotalEnergies CAF U23 AFCON 2023: Ghana overcome Congo in dramatic opener

The Black Meteors begun their cam­paign at the Con­federation of Afri­ca Football (CAF) TotalEnergies U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on a winning note yesterday in Mo­rocco, defeating Congo Brazzaville 3-2 in a dramatic group opener.

The win that was to create a partying atmosphere in the team’s camp nearly turned catastrophic as the Congolese scored two late goals to reduce the deficit.

In fact, it took another brilliant save from Danlad Ibrahim with some few seconds left to keep Ghana’s slim lead intact as the Red Devils threatened from the late spells.

It was an anxious moment for the two benches as they watched with varied expectations with the Ghanaians expecting the final whistle while the Congolese yearned for extra seconds to be added.

Ernest Nuamah put the team ahead on the 50th minute after a barren first half before Emmanuel Yeboah earned the ‘super sub’ tag when he came from the bench to score two goals in a short interval to give the Ghanaians what seemed an unassailable lead.

But the ‘devils’ character in the Congolese emerged and caused a late destruction, scoring two quick-fire goals in a space of two minutes to stun the Ghanaians.

Ghana had started the game as clear favourites, piling pressure on their first time opponents in the early minutes of game and in the process earning two corners under five minutes.

The Congolese, however, warmed themselves into the game and begun to find spaces in the middle of the pitch and made occasional threats, the first from an attempted counter-attack spear­headed by Dzigo Saiko but Ed­mund Arko Mensah was on hand to thwart it for the Meteors.

Borel Tomandzoto led another Red Devils onslaught on the 10th minute but shot at goal missed the bar by a few inches while Exauce Nzaou followed with a shot which was deflected to corner.

Danlad Ibrahim made an im­portant save on the 40th minute as Tomandzoto fired a grounder towards goal.

In a bid to find the team’s spark, Coach Ibrahim Tanko took out skipper Afriyie Barnie and Sylvester Simba, replacing them with Hafiz Ibrahim and Emmanuel Yeboah who proved an instant hit on resumption of the second half.

Five minutes later, Ghana broke the deadlock with an Ernest Nua­mah tap-in from the far post.

It followed an inventive play from the back that saw Abdul Fatawu Isshahaku dropping deep to receive the ball.

Realising a loose marking, Fa­tawu raced to the empty spaces in the midfield area; drawing a chase from the Congolese defence and released a decent pass to Emmanu­el Yeboah who also laid a grounder for Ernest Nuamah to tap in, leav­ing the Congolese goalie, Dhody Bissila, sprawling on the turf.

That forced a Congolese change that brought on Josna Loulendo for Chadrac Osseby Debon in 61st minute as they controlled the game and looked for spaces to punish the Black Meteors.

Against the run of play, Fatawu nearly stunned the Congolese with a long strike from the Ghana half which beat an advanced Congo keeper but hit goalpost to the relief of the Congolese.

Not long after, Emmanuel Yeboah doubled the lead with the first of his brace in the 76th minute after he outrun his marker to pick a long pass into the Red Devils area, controlled and fired one that beat the goalie.

Three minutes later, Arko Mensah benefitted from a simi­lar opportunity to earn Ghana a penalty which actually sparked the dramatic scenes.

Mensah’s poorly taken kick was saved but had an amnesty after Video Assistant Referee (VAR) adjudged the Congolese keeper, Bissila, to have moved forward before the kick, hence the decision to replay.

The close-shave miss may have convinced Mensah to cede the penalty responsibility to Yeboah who planted the ball at the oppo­site direction but Bissila pulled a second save.

But once again, VAR was unconvinced and signaled an infringement to the on-field referee who pointed to the spot again and flashed a yellow card on the keeper.

Yeboah converted expertly on the third time of asking to hand Ghana a comfortable 3-0 lead.

The Congolese did not give up. They kept the long balls into the Meteors area, hoping to use their height and physicality to bully the Ghanaians.

On the 90th minute, the dimin­utive substitute Reich Kokolo managed to outjump his markers to head home from a free-kick into the Meteors area.

In less than a minute, Yann Kouori-Ngatse fired in the second goal after a scramble in the Mete­ors goal area but what went closer to getting a sensational leveler was saved by Danlad.


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