Ghana captain John Mensah has spoken of his delight after his team won their opening CAF Africa Cup of Nations game against Botswana here, even though he picked up the competiton's first red card.
Mensah's first-half goal at the Franceville Stadium proved to be the match-winner as the Black Stars pipped debutants Botswana 1-0 on Tuesday. However, the Lyon centre-back received his second red card in the Cup of Nations for a professional foul on Jerome Ramatlhakwana, who was clear on goal mid-way through the second half.
Mensah also saw red in the quarter-final of the 2008 CAN in Ghana, when he fouled the goal-bound Peter Odemwingie of Nigeria. "I'm happy we won with my goal. We had to win to boost our confidence," Mensah said after the Group D clash.
"I thank God for my first goal at the Nations Cup, unfortunately I also got a red card. But we have a good bench and so we have a lot of players who can replace me in the two games I will miss."
Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic, however, lamented the absence of his first-choice central defender for the other Group D matches against Mali and Guinea. "I'm worried because Mensah is very difficult to replace," he said. "He played well against Botswana but then got sent off.
"But while we were training in South Africa, I told the players that I need every one of them for this competition and so I have 20 other players who could replace him and we will be ready for Mali."
Against Botswana, Mensah played alongside Rennes defender John Boye, who was making his Cup of Nations debut and was picked as the man of the match by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Another young centre-back, Jonathan Mensah, who was dropped for Boye against Botswana, is most likely to replace John Mensah on Saturday against Mali.
Hoffenheim ace Issac Vorsah, who is the usual partner of John Mensah in the Black Stars back four, will also miss the match against Mali as he remains suspended due to his two-match ban for a red card in the final qualifier in Sudan in October. Mensah's decisive goal came in the 24th minute of the game in Franceville, when he helped in a corner from the left taken by Emmanuel Agyemang Badu.
Stevanovic reflected: "We controlled the game until the red card for Mensah. We created some chances but they closed down the game with 10 men behind the ball. All the same, it was very important that we won our first game of a tournament that has already produced some surprises."