Ghana Has Its Afcon Ticket, but Draw with South Africa Was a Chance Missed
Mohammed Kudus might not recall, if you asked him, the last time South Africa beat Ghana competitively.
It’s certainly not because he has a poor memory.
When that happened — courtesy of a stinging, solitary Siyabonga Nomvethe goal at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations — Kudus was still some six months away from being born.
He will certainly remember the last couple of games between the two nations, though, having had a considerable say in the outcomes of both.
Kudus scored in each of those matches — two of his three senior appearances for Ghana, coming a year apart — and, ultimately, helped the Black Stars book a place at the next Africa Cup of Nations.
His second goal, in yesterday’s top-of-the-table clash at the FNB Stadium, was as good as the first, but it was certainly worth more. South Africa had long been the better team and, before Kudus struck shortly after recess, should have been in the lead themselves.
Kudus set himself up, with a wonderful first touch that simultaneously took out an opponent he then glided past, for a delicious one-on-one with goalkeeper Ronwen Williams that the Ajax Amsterdam youngster comfortably won.
It was a goal so very much against-the-run-of-play that the ball even seemed reluctant to cross the line, hitting one post and stopping just short of touching the other on its way in.
Going behind sparked, almost immediately, a South African reaction. Percy Tau, the England-based star, leveled expertly just three minutes later. Molefi Ntseki’s charges pressed for a second — they, more than Ghana, needed the win — and were probably only a last-ditch tackle by debutant Ismail Ganiyu from fetching it.
The Stars held on for a draw that secured a favourable head-to-head record against South Africa — they already had one over Sudan, Group C’s other well-placed team — that immunizes them against any harm in the weekend’s final round of games.
Ghana, at home, would likely thrash a pointless — and, frankly, harmless — Sao Tome & Principe side that has already shipped 13 goals in five games and scored just two, to celebrate qualification with a flourish.
Still, Ghana’s failure to win — or, at least, impress — in Johannesburg could come with long-term consequences. Here was a chance, missed by the Stars, to send a message — strong, loud and clear — to familiar opponents with whom they have two more dates before 2021 ends.
South Africa would, indeed, be Ghana’s biggest headache in the foreseeable future, with both teams boxed into the same group again, this time for the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification series.
Ghana has had South Africa’s number for the best part of the past two decades, as implied at the outset, and it was a stunning 2-0 triumph on the latter’s own turf in the race to reach Germany 2006 that emphatically declared freedom from a yoke which had weighed heavily throughout the late nineties into the early noughties.
That crushing weight has since been South Africa’s to bear, and Ghana could have taken this opportunity to reinforce their psychological edge by baring some teeth.
Yet Ghana barely grinned, with head coach Charles Akonnor conceding that his team “were lucky to get a goal,” and that they were “happy with a draw.”
Even with a new-look side that wasn’t quite at full-strength, Akonnor could have served a more convincing display. Instead of fear, however, the only thing Ghana’s insipid performance must have inspired in Bafana Bafana was hope that the muscles they were allowed to flex so freely could blow the Stars’ Qatar 2022 dreams to smithereens.
Should that happen – and I hope it doesn’t — Akonnor might look back to Thursday’s result with some regret.