Antoine Semenyo played the super substitute as he struck late in added time to secure a deserved victory for the Black Stars as they laboured to earn a 1-0 victory over a disciplined Angola side at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi Thursday.
Ghana created many scoring chances from different angles in both halves but could not get the ball at the back of the net as the Palancans Negras appeared to be pulling off a respectable draw until Semenyo popped up to fire the ball into the net as the Ghanaians massed up in the Angolan penalty box in a desperate search for a goal.
On a number of occasions, goalkeeper Adilson Cipriano da Cruz made some great saves to keep a clean sheet but he failed to stop the player’s shot inside the six-yard box to throw the expected crowd into frenzy as the Black Stars players mobbed their lone-goal hero who said in a post-match interview that the goal was a good confidence booster for him and the team.
“It was late and we needed to act fast and luckily the ball dropped into my path. It’s good for the confidence and I needed it. The atmosphere was good and my dad was in the crowd,” said a modest Semenyo of his second goal for Ghana and his first on home soil.
The victory ensured Ghana consolidated its position on top of the Group E table of the African Cup of Nations qualifiers ahead of the reverse fixture in Luanda on Monday.
The atmosphere in Kumasi was charged in expectation of a victory as Chris Hughton made a winning start as the new coach of the Black Stars.
The Irish coach surprisingly omitted Skipper Andre Ayew from the team and handed Edmund Addo a starting role as a holding midfielder Thomas Partey leading the team on the pitch as the Ghana gaffer adopted 4-2-3-1 formation.
The Ghanaians dominated the exchanges and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and created many scoring opportunities but the Angolans grew in confidence as the game progressed, exploited gaps in Ghana’s midfield and defence to create some scoring chances, especially in the first half and kept goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi on alert.
In the first 15 minutes the Angolans sat back and allowed the Stars to dictate the pace of the game with talented Mohammed Kudus operating from deep midfield, while Jordan Ayew and Kamaldeen Sulemana operated from the wings, creating openings in the Angolan defence but lead striker Inaki Williams was not clinical enough to finish off some of the chances that fell his way, while Kudus watched some of his shots missing the target narrowly.
Occasionally when the Angolans went on attack, they forced the Ghanaian centre-backs of Daniel Amartey and Alexander Djiku to work overtime to keep the Angolan forwards, especially danger man, M’Bala Nzola.
After recess, the Black Stars looked an improved side and kept the pressure on the southern Americans in search of the opener as the Angolan sat back and soaked up the pressure and looked for openings to catch the Ghanaians on the wrong foot.
As the game wore on with Ghana missing one chance after another, frustration crept into their game and the Angolans began to grow in confidence and took the game to the Ghanaians who were firing shots from all angles in search of the opener as the vociferous crowd went silent.
In the 53rd minute, the entire stadium nearly rose to celebrate as a Kudus shot was heading into the net only to be parried by Cipriano to corner.
In the 70th minute, Coach Hughton made three important changes as he brought on Abdul Samed Salif for Addo to solidify the midfield and liberate Partey into a more offensive role, while Joseph Painstil and Semenyo replaced Williams and Jordan Ayew.
Soon, the Black Stars began to push more men into the final third of the Angolan half in search of goals.
Three minutes into added-on time, Semenyo missed a golden chance to put Ghana ahead as his shot from close range flew off target to add the team’s frustration and a relief for Angola.
However, the Bournemouth striker had the last laugh two minutes later as Ghana won a free kick right on the edge of Angola’s penalty box. The resultant kick was well saved by the goalkeeper but the rebound resulted in a goalmouth melee and Semenyo popped up to rifle the ball into the net to a tumultuous roar by the capacity crowd.
After the match, a relieved Coach Hughton admitted his side did not capitalise on the many scoring opportunities but looked forward to an improved game in the return encounter on Monday.
“It’s a win and that’s most important. We faced a well organised Angolan side that grew in confidence because we failed to score and it put pressure on us. Even if you are at your best and you don’t score, you encourage your opponent,” he said.