Ghana’s Black Meteors secured qualification to their second straight U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) following a 1-0 victory over Algeria in a final round return leg qualifier at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi yesterday.
A 13th minute delicate header by playmaker Abdul Fatawu Issahaku was enough to tame the stubborn North Africans with a 2-1 aggregate victory after the Sporting CP gem had given the Meteors a lifeline in the 1-1 first leg in Annaba last Friday.
The wild celebration which greeted yesterday’s triumph ushered the Meteors into the final phase of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualifiers slated for Morocco from June 2 to 26.
Despite being wasteful, the young talented Meteors side still gave Coach Ibrahim Tanko hope to be second time lucky at the eight-nation tournament in Morocco after missing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ticket narrowly to South Africa at Egypt 2019 through the lottery of penalty shootout.
It was a game the Meteors dominated but poor finishing robbed them of a cricket scoreline, with skipper Daniel Afriyie Barnieh being the main culprit, including a 14th minute howler with the Algerian goalkeeper at his mercy.
Easily, Issahaku and FC Nordsjælland’s Ernest Nuamah were the brightest spots in the Meteors team as they created many anxious moments for the Algerians throughout the game.
The Ghanaians looked quite promising right from kick-off and made some incursions into the goal area of the Algerians but failed to connect until in the 13th minute when enterprising Nuamah made a decent run on the far right before whipping in a deep cross for Issahaku to head home the opener.
A minute later, the Meteors were on the offensive again with a build-up from the middle which saw Issahaku and Barnieh combining beautifully, but the FC Basel striker’s shot was too feeble to cause any havoc.
In the 20th minute, the Algerians reacted with an attack and profited from a free kick at the edge of the Meteors box, but Abdel Karim’s effort was easily saved by goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim.
Four minutes later, the Meteors pushed for more goals and were rewarded with a free kick 20 meters away from the Algerians vital area, but Issahaku’s effort missed the top right corner narrowly.
The Algerians, who had sat back to soak the intense pressure from the Meteors, breached the Ghana defence in the 29th minute with their attackers running past Samuel Abbey-Ashie Quaye to whip the ball across the face of goal, but there was no attacker on hand to tap home for the equaliser.
By the 37th minute, Coach Tanko’s boys looked hungry for more goals and launched another attack which saw Barnieh weaving his way through the Algerian penalty box only to lay a pass instead of shooting at goal.
Danlad was called to duty a minute later but he again proved equal to the task when he sprawled to deny the Algerians an equaliser.
Just before half-time, Abbey-Ashie Quaye made a long run from the flanks and located Issahaku whose shot was pushed back into play by goalkeeper Teddy Boulhendi only for Barnieh to fluff the rebound.
The second half brought out the best in Nuamah who created more problems for the Algerian backline. In the 54th minute, he pounced on a long searching ball which failed to beat goalkeeper Boulhendi.
In the 78th minute, the FC Nordsjælland star was again located by Dominic Nsobila as he beat his markers to set up Barnieh in the box, but the Meteors’ skipper’s shot was blocked much to the disappointment of the fans.
Having had enough of the unpardonable misses by Barnieh, Coach Tanko eventually replaced him with CFR Cluj’s Emmanuel Yeboah, who added some urgency to the Ghana attack, giving Issahaku and Nuamah the laxity to thrill the fans with some deft touches.
Yeboah’s major contribution came minutes to the end when he made a brilliant run from the left flank and set up Nuamah, but his shot was saved by the Algerian goalkeeper.