Ghana survive South Africa’s test by the skin of their teeth and now playoffs await

Ghana has booked a place in the play-offs of the World Cup qualifiers after edging South Africa...

Ghana survive South Africa’s test by the skin of their teeth and now playoffs await

In the end, it all came down to this game. A game billed as the decider, a game to separate the two best teams of Group G. By the end, a single goal from Dede Ayew consigned South Africa to a 1-0 defeat – the visitor’s hopes crushed, the South African dream set ablaze – and the Black Stars catapulted into the final round of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Underneath the two huge, blinding floodlights that stood tall and erect at the edges of the Cape Coast Stadium on the cold eve of Sunday, the Black Stars wrestled and fought, seeking out redemption and salvation all at once. A win in this cutthroat game was non-negotiable.

With Ghana already trailing South Africa by just three points prior to this cutthroat contest in Cape Coast, even a slim 1-0 win for the Black Stars, after all the mathematics and permutations had been carried out, was deemed sufficient enough to send them to the summit of Group G.

And so it came to pass that Ghana made it to the final round of the World Cup qualifiers after Dede Ayew drilled home the only goal of the game from 12-yards out into the bottom corner just after the half-hour mark.

A goal which brought a much-needed relief to calm down all the dangling nerves. A goal that brought respite and strengthened the team’s resolve.

The Black Stars were without the towering presence of Thomas Partey and Jonathan Mensah, two key cogs of Milovan Rajevac’s tried-and-tested first 11.

The untimely injuries to these two players robbing the Black Stars of that little bit of extra quality. Yet, to their credit, Mubarak Wakaso and Daniel Amartey slotted in and performed creditably to no one’s particular surprise.

At times Wakaso lunged violently into tackles, hacking his man down, kicking, sliding, bleeding, working his socks off. Mubarak Wakaso has always been like this, has always played football the aggressive way.

For him, presumably, tackling has never been something you do just to win the ball back, but an art to be relished, the sort of action carried out to instill fear in opponents: to intimidate, to bully. For him, presumably, every crunching tackle he makes trigger the release of dopamine, a reward which makes it irresistible for the act not to be repeated.

For all his aggression, for the most part, Wakaso never sees red. You may be tempted to ascribe his wild combativeness to a sort of personal foible, as a sort of thing he needs to work on and tone down, yet if you take a long, hard look, Wakaso’s wild aggression in this taut game against the Bafana Bafana worked a treat.

As South Africa grew in confidence and into the game, pinning back the Black Stars and launching wave after wave of attacks, the ability to disrupt play and halt their momentum came in handy. And here was Mubarak Wakaso, chasing, kicking, flying into tackles.

The Black Stars should have put the game to bed in the second half. Kamaldeen Sulemana, despite a slow start to the game, grew in confidence after the restart and came close to doubling Ghana’s lead after spanking a shot across the gaping goal of South Africa, when goalkeeper Ronwen Williams had come out only to miss his clearance.

Kamaldeen, as slippery as an eel, remained a sinister presence on the left side of Ghana’s attack: offering pace and incision, taking on and hurtling past his marker.

As for Jordan Ayew, well, this was another game he failed to find the back of the net. And yet, football has forever been a sport where goals have largely remained the sole currency of forwards.

The last time the Crystal Palace man scored a goal for either club or country was in a friendly against Reading, on July 31 of this year. For much of the last 12 months, planting the ball at the back of the net has become a harrowing thing to do for the 30-year-old. So it begs the question: What exactly is Jordan Ayew; a striker? – a winger? What exactly?

On a cold night where an entire nation were on edge, eyeballs glued to TV sets, Milovan Rajevac peered out on to the pitch like a grandpa at a funeral trying very hard to recollect the names of his grandchildren.

As the final whistle sounded, as South African players buried their heads in hands, tears rolling uncontrollably down their cheeks, the Serb raced on to the turf to envelop his players in a warm embrace.

Of course he was proud. Of course he was delighted. Of course he’s greatly aware the business isn’t yet finished, there’s still the final round of qualifiers left. For now, he will cherish and savour the moment.

By Bright Antwi

Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf

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