Ghana leave it late to pip Paraguay (2:1)
Ghana struck twice in three minutes late on to defeat Paraguay 2-1 in a Group B encounter that burst into life 15 minutes from time. Goals from William Tiero and Stephen Appiah in Thessaloniki cancelled out a Carlos Gamarra header as Ghana leapfrogged over Paraguay to join Italy on four points. The South Americans now need to defeat the Azzurri to qualify for the quarters while Ghana need only a point to make certain of reaching the last eight.
With five forwards officially listed in the starting 11, Ghana started off like a train. Appiah, whose confidence had been boosted by a wonder goal in the 2-2 draw against Italy, began the match brightly. Playing in a position just between the forward and midfield lines, the Juventus player was at the heart of the Africans' good early work.
Ghana seemed intent on emulating their opening assault that had stunned Italy three days before and there was only six minutes on the clock when Appiah cut inside his man and shot just wide. With three points under their belt, Paraguay were not about to give up their own game plan of counter-attacking and go toe-to-toe, but the shooting boots of Aureliano Torres, who had eight shots in the opening match, were at work again whistling wide efforts in quick succession.
Aggressive, fast and not afraid to shoot, Ghana pushed forward and William Tiero, one of only four in the starting line-up plying their trade back home, first blasted wide, then, from 25 yards, inches over.
Slowly but surely, the more experienced South Americans began to draw the sting out of the Africans early thrust. Their defensive wall, marshalled superbly by skipper Carlos Gamarra, stood rock solid, shattering the Black Stars early momentum and, as a clutch of Ghanaian supporters quietened, the Guaranis began to dictate the pace of the game.
The second half started much as the first. Captain Yussif Chibsah shaved the post with a bullet of a shot and only a miraculous flying turn over from another Barreto, Diego, kept out a soaring John Mensah a header. Reappearing slightly to the left of centre, Appiah bent a free kick over and then scorched another right-footer onto the eighth lane of the running track. But the Africans were not getting any closer and Paraguay hit them with their first decent chance of the half.
Substitute Fredy Bareiro had just mistimed a golden headed opportunity, but from the resultant corner, Gamarra thundered a header home past George Owu down on his knees (1-0, 76).
Owu might have been down but his outfield players were not and the introduction of Kwadwo Poku changed the game. With Paraguay surprisingly pushing players upfield for a second, the Denmark-based forward set off on a long run covering three-quarters of the field before slipping the perfect ball to Tiero who side-footed home left footed (1-1, 81). Three minutes later and the impish striker beat his man on the left corner of the area and crossed for Appiah to poke into the far corner and set off jubilation among the colourful African support (1-2, 84).
"We thought we had them," admitted a disappointed Paraguay coach Carlos Jara afterwards. "We were in control and they were causing us no problems but in a few minutes, with two chances, the game was lost. Now we have to regroup and focus on the last game, Italy."
"We had no luck against Italy but today we did - and we had fight," smiled Barreto. "Sometimes substitutions work, sometimes they don't. After we conceded, the pressure of winning was lifted from my boys shoulders and they played how I know they can."