Black Stars shine, Elephants tumble
Day 15 - The heart of the host nation was cruelly broken on Sunday as Ghana beat Angola to become the first side into the semi-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. But the emergence of a solid young Ghanaian side was overshadowed by a shock win for Algeria over hot favourites Côte d'Ivoire in a thriller in Cabinda later in the day.
Angola saw their dreams of a home triumph in the Nations Cup shattered by a 16th-minute beauty from Asamoah Gyan. Even though there were several gilt-edged chances for Angola after that, Ghana held firm to reach the semi-finals for a second successive tournament. They will face the winner of Monday’s match between Nigeria and Zambia in Luanda on Thursday.
A dramatic late burst of goals between two FIFA World Cup™-bound teams in Cabinda produced a thriller as the Ivorians took the lead twice, but Algeria ended up surprise victors. The Desert Foxes fought back from an early goal to equalise before half-time, but a wonder strike from Kader Keita seemed to seal it for the Elephants in the final minutes, only for Algeria to equalise again. Then just two minutes into extra time, they snatched the lead for the first time and held on for a sensational result. For their reward, Algeria will meet the winner of the Egypt and Cameroon match in Benguela on Thursday.
Angola 0-1 Ghana (Gyan 16’)
Côte d'Ivoire 2-3 Algeria a.e.t. (Kalou 4’, Keita 89’; Matmour 40’, Bougherra 90+1’, Bouazza 92’)
Goal of the day
Angola 0-1 Ghana, Asamoah Gyan (16’)
Ghana legend Abedi Pele had predicted before the game that if Asamoah Gyan played he would prove the match winner. Injury concerns have hung over him for yet another tournament and indeed he went off during Sunday’s match against Angola as he felt the twinge of his troubled hamstring. But by then Gyan had already provided the shock to the Angolan nation with a simple angled shot that crept wide of goalkeeper Carlos Fernandes for the only goal of the match at the November 11 Stadium in Luanda. While the final touch was perfectly placed, what made the goal special was the pass down the centre from midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah that left the defence sliced open. His ball had a perfect weight for Gyan to run on to, and his finish sent Ghana into the last four.
Keita classic not enough
Abdelkader Keita has hit a few long-range thunderbolts before in the colours of Côte d'Ivoire but never with such accuracy as the last-minute strike that seemed to seal up the match against Algeria for the Elephants. Coming on as a substitute for the impressive Salomon Kalou, Keita ran with it diagonally along the edge of the penalty area until he suddenly unleashed a 30-metre drive to the top left corner that gave Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi no chance. It seemed a worthy winner for the quarter-final tie, but within minutes Algeria were level again.
Young Angola striker Manucho missed three perfect chances to turn around Sunday’s quarter-final tie against Ghana. He did well to slip his marker and find space at the back post to meet Flavio’s 30th-minute cross, but with the rest of the goal at his mercy his header was directed too close to Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson. Just before half-time came an even worse miss from close range as Flavio flicked the ball back, and Manucho, albeit in the process of losing his balance, contrived to blast well over the top. He might well have redeemed himself a quarter of an hour from the end with another header, but this time he powered it just over to the despair of the capacity 50,000-person crowd.
Things fall apart
Once Algeria had taken the lead for the first time against the Ivorians, with substitute Hameur Bouazza scoring from his first touch of the ball, both sides seemed to lose shape, and the match was full of chances. In the second half of extra time, Algeria had several great opportunities in quick succession to extend their 3-2 advantage. Abdelkader Ghezzal should have bulged the net from a cross from the left, but he failed to connect, and then Hassan Yebda just got under a near-post header, while in between, a goalmouth scramble had Côte d'Ivoire's defence in disarray.
Although he might have been entitled to rant on about missed chances and the superior enterprise of his team, there was a dignity in defeat for Angola coach Manuel Jose. He congratulated Ghana first on their win and for reaching the semi-finals, then the Angolan people for their staging of the tournament. Only then did he ascribe the missed opportunities to a night of "poor luck."
Disappointment for the “Sea of Red”
Although Angola gave as good as they got and came so close to scoring numerous times against Ghana, the thousands of Angolans leaving November 11 Stadium had nothing but heartbreak written on their faces. It was the same people who only two hours earlier had made Luanda one of the centres of world football for the evening, covering the stadium in a boisterous sea of red and yellow. They danced, sang passionately, cheered enthusiastically every time their side launched an attack, and even spurred their side on when they seemed done for. But ultimately, it was an evening of what could have been for the nation and the team that was hoping to join in among the continent’s elite for the first time in a CAN semi-final.
9 - The number of days that Côte d'Ivoire went without a match at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations before Sunday’s quarter-final. They had drawn with Burkina Faso to open the tournament and then beat Ghana to make sure of top place in Group B, but their final group match did not happen because of the early withdrawal of Togo.
What they said
“I’m very proud to be the coach of this team. They gave everything they had and fought to the end. Ghana had one chance, and they scored a goal. We played very well, but the only thing that was missing was goals. We are out of the competition, but I’m very proud of this team.” Manuel Jose, Angola coach.
Egypt - Cameroon (25 Jan. 16:00 GMT)
Zambia - Nigeria (25 Jan. 19:30 GMT)