Just days after being taken to hospital with malaria, Asamoah Gyan lit up the Africa Cup of Nations on Friday with a late winning goal as Ghana beat Algeria 1-0.
Ghana’s win and the 1-1 draw between Senegal and South Africa later in the day in Mongomo leave the two qualifying spots in Group C still up for grabs ahead of the final round of matches next Tuesday, although Bafana Bafana appear very much up against it.
Gyan is Ghana’s captain and talisman and he was missed in Monday’s last-gasp loss to the Senegalese, with coach Avram Grant judging the striker unfit to play having been hospitalised last weekend after contracting a mild bout of malaria.
The 29-year-old came straight back into the line-up on Friday and Grant decided to keep him on the pitch despite him visibly tiring towards the end.
A scrappy match of few chances on a poor surface was set to end goalless until, in the second minute of injury time, Gyan latched onto a hopeful long ball downfield and outpaced Carl Medjani before firing across goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi and into the net from a tight angle.
It was his seventh Cup of Nations goal, allowing him to equal the record mark set by Osei Kofi, a veteran of the Black Stars side that won the continental title in 1965.
The goal also means Gyan has now scored at eight consecutive major tournaments, stretching back to the 2006 World Cup, and Grant was full of praise for his superstar forward afterwards.
“Asamoah has a fantastic attitude. He wasn’t fit and he hadn’t been training. He is one of the greatest players I have worked with,” said the Israeli after his first competitive win in charge of Ghana.
Ghana now know that they will qualify for the quarter-finals as long as they can beat South Africa on Tuesday, while Algeria also know that a win against Senegal in Malabo will definitely take them through.
“It is cruel to lose the match in the last minute, but that will not change our fundamental approach to the last game: even with a draw we would still have needed to win,” said Algeria’s French coach Christian Gourcuff, before blaming the conditions for his side’s display.
“We never managed to get into any rhythm because of the state of the pitch and the weather conditions. In Malabo against Senegal, I think the surface will allow us to play a much more fluid game.”
– Senegal in pole position –
Senegal are in pole position and are just a point away from the quarter-finals after coming from behind to draw with Bafana Bafana.
For the second game running South Africa took the lead but failed to see out a result, with Oupa Manyisa opening the scoring just after half-time.
Senegal had a Sadio Mane equaliser disallowed for offside but they were level on the hour mark when Kara Mbodji met a free-kick from the right flank with a towering header into the net.
“We take a lot of confidence from the way we have played in these two matches, even if we have not got the results we hoped for,” said Dean Furman, the captain of a South Africa side who must now beat Ghana in their last match to stand any chance of progressing to the last eight.
“We just have to hope that a win in our last game will be enough for us to go through.”
Senegal’s French coach Alain Giresse said: “Nothing is settled. The final day will be fatal. That shows how difficult a group this is.”
The action in Equatorial Guinea continues on Saturday with a double-header of games in Group D, as the Ivory Coast, without the suspended Gervinho, take on Mali and Cameroon meet Guinea in Malabo.
Elephants coach Herve Renard will be looking to Yaya Toure to produce a captain’s performance after laying down the gauntlet to the Manchester City star on Friday.
“I expect a better second game from him than the first one. If he is not able to improve his level it will be difficult for the team,” said Renard.