Daniel Afriyie Barnieh and Seidu Suraj emerged heroes at the Cape Coast Stadium yesterday when their goals gave the Black Galaxies of Ghana a headstart in the first leg of the Championship for African Nations (CHAN) qualifier
against the CHAN Eagles of Nigeria.
Barnieh expertly converted a penalty in the 46th minute to break the deadlock in the tension-packed match, while Suraj’s 85th minute tap-in was enough to electrify the stadium with spontaneous drumming, singing and dancing.
However, the Nigerians protested vehemently against the penalty decision, holding play for some minutes. But referee Issa Mouhamed from Benin stood his grounds until Afriyie Barnieh rose up to plant the ball coolly at the blind side of goalkeeper Adewale Adeyinka.
In the 85th minute, Suraj sealed victory for Ghana when he pounced on substitute Abagna’s inch-perfect pass to increase the tally.
The victory handed Nigeria a herculean task to deal with in the second leg in Abuja on Saturday as they need to score three or more goals against the more determined Ghanaians to qualify for the finals in Algeria next year.
When the match got underway, Ghana, which has missed the last three editions of the CHAN in Rwanda, Morocco and Cameroun respectively, looked determined to sacrifice Nigeria and make amends for the previous misses.
The Galaxies made early incursions into the vital area of Nigeria in the fourth minute but Barnieh and Jonah Attuquaye were late to connect.
The Nigerians accepted the challenge and pressed hard into the Ghana area, earning a corner kick in the seventh minute which was wasted.
By the time a quarter of the game had been played, both teams had settled, looking for the opener which had eluded them.
Nigeria started using the flanks in search of the opener with Martins Bello, Babatunde and Joseph Onoja at the forefront but found the Ghanaian defenders made up of Konadu Yiadom, Mohammed Alhassan and Razak Kassim unyielding.
The visitors then resorted to some hard tackles in a bid to subdue the attacking machinery of Ghana, comprising Barnieh, Attuquaye and skipper Gladson Awako.
In the 28th minute, Chijoke Nnamdi Akuneto was put through in the box but the timely intervention by Mohammed Alhassan saved Ghana from conceding.
With their respective fans urging them on in the stands, the two rivals kept surging into each other’s territory with the visitors slightly on top.
Ghana nearly got the opener on the 45th minute mark when goalkeeper Adeyinka fumbled with a long volley from Dennis Korsah but as Attuquaye raced to connect the ball, the goalkeeper dived backwards to pluck it.
Back from recess, Ghana earned a penalty in the 46th minute when Oluwatosin Adegbite handled the ball in the vital area to prevent Alhassan from scoring. The referee saw it and whistled for a penalty.
With the deadlock broken, the pattern of play changed in favour of the Ghanaians who launched series of attacks, hoping to increase the tally, while the Nigerians fought back using open spaces to launch their own attacks, mostly from the midfield.
In the 57th minute, Abagna pounced on Attuquaye’s pass and fired a volley which missed the target by inches.
Both teams made series of changes but it was Ghana who benefited the more as they resorted to counter-attacks, one of which saw Suraj finishing off with a brilliant strike to make it 2,0 which will make it difficult for Nigeria in their own backyard in the return leg in Abuja, where the Black Stars snatched the Qatar 2022 World Cup ticket in March.