Ghana finished the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers as winners of Group F after grinding a 1-0 win against Kenya in the final group game at the Accra Sports Stadium on Saturday.
A late strike from second half substitute, Caleb Ekuban with some few minutes to end the game, gave the Italy-born Ekuban his first international goal on his debut which also ensured that the Black Stars bagged all three points to overtake the Harambee Stars at the top of the group standings with nine points as against Kenya's seven.
Both sides have qualified for the tournament to be staged in Egypt in June from four matches ahead of Ethiopia. Sierra Leone, the fourth team in the group were disqualified after being banned by football's governing body, FIFA, for government interference in the Sierra Leone Football Association.
Caleb Ekuban - marked his debut with an important goal for Ghana
Having already qualified for the tournament, this final game was more about who finished on top, however, the Kenyans came into the match with a game plan of possibly sharing the points and managed to hold the Ghanaians to a goalless draw to end the first half.
The Stars showed their intention right from the start with Thomas Partey's seventh minute freekick narrowly went over the bar. The infringement was awarded after Jordan Ayew was fouled inches away from the 18-yard box.
More chances came the way of the Stars, but the first half turned out to be a frustrating one as the final delivery from their moves, almost always initiated by Newcastle's Christian Atsu, were thwarted and they could not make anything out of the several corner kicks they had as a result of the incursions they made.
Their relieve over a goal was further delayed when Botswana refereee Joshua Bondo denied Ghana their opening goal, disallowing what seemed a perfect strike from Andre Dede Ayew, who managed to tap in a rebound after his initial header was parried away by goalkeeper Patrick Matasi. The referee ruled an infringement against the Stars deputy captain who led the team in this game.
Andre Dede Ayew had his 33rd minute goal overruled
Not only that, referee Bondo failed to get the Kenyans to play it fair, ignoring the numerous fouls the Kenyans committed against the Ghanaians.
With Wakaso Mubarak and Christian Atsu producing man-of-the-match performances, the second half saw the tempo of the game going up, the Stars in particular surging forward more in search of the opener, while both sides made some changes, all in a bid to gain the upper hand, but both were denied the needed goal until the 81st minute when Ekuban struck.
The Italian-born striker, currently on loan at Turkish side, Trabzonspor, came on to replace Emmanuel Boateng on the 60th minute and almost immediately made an impact, his first contribution resulting in a freekick for Ghana but he had to wait till the 20minutes later to make his presence felt and his inclusion count as he broke free from his markers to strike, and put the expectant fans at the stadium up on their feet in celebration.
Christian Atsu was the playmaker for the Stars against Kenya
The Stars bench looked equally relieved over the goal and Coach Kwesi Appiah could not hide it when he admitted in a post match interview that they were determined to 'score and win at all cost' because that was their game plan and had worked hard to achieve the result irrespective of the scoreline.
With the qualifiers over, and the Stars will now turn their attention to preparing well for the tournament in Egypt. Their first task will have them take advantage of the international break to play Mauritania on March 26 at the Accra Stadium.
Ghana starting lineup:
Richard Ofori, Daniel Opare, John Boye, Nicholas Opoku, Lumor Agbenyenu; Thomas Partey, Mubarak Wakaso, Christian Atsu, Andre Ayew/Joseph Aidoo (86th); Jordan Ayew/Ernest Asante (75th), Emmanuel Boateng/Caleb Ekuban (60th)
Team P W D L GF GA GD PTS
Ghana 4 3 0 1 8 1 7 9
Kenya 4 2 1 0 4 0 4 7
Ethiopia 4 0 1 3 0 10 -10 1
*Sierra Leone 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
* Disqualified due to FIFA ban