A late diving header by Andre Ayew took Ghana through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday alongside favourites Algeria in a dramatic denouement to Group C.
Ghana came from behind to beat South Africa 2-1 in Mongomo to secure their berth in the quarter-finals as winners of the group, having looked set to finish bottom with barely 20 minutes to play.
Meanwhile, the Algerians beat Senegal 2-0 in Malabo thanks to a goal in each half from Premier League stars Riyad Mahrez and Nabil Bentaleb to go through in second place at the expense of the Lions of Teranga.
The Black Stars of Ghana, who have reached at least the semi-finals of each of the last four tournaments, were heading out when Mandla Masango smashed home on 17 minutes in Mongomo to give South Africa the lead.
However, their hopes were revived when defender John Boye equalised on 73 minutes, and with the momentum behind them, Avram Grant’s side went on to get the win they required when Marseille winger Andre Ayew headed home with seven minutes to go from a cross by Abdul Rahman Baba.
“We deserve it because South Africa were not better than us. We have finished first in the group of death, which is not bad,” said Ghana’s Israeli coach Grant.
Algeria also had to win against Senegal to be sure of going through and Christian Gourcuff’s team were on their way when Leicester City winger Mahrez slotted home on 11 minutes.
At 1-0, both sides were going through until events of the final 10 minutes in Equatorial Guinea. First, Sofiane Feghouli set up Bentaleb to lash home and put Algeria 2-0 up, and then Ghana’s winning goal in the other game condemned Senegal to an early exit.
“It was an excessively difficult game physically. The ball was almost always in the air, which is not an advantage for us,” said Algeria coach Gourcuff, who is now looking forward to a quarter-final tie this weekend.
“It was not easy to get out of this group. We don’t choose our opponents. Of course we’ll follow the games with lots of interest tomorrow (Wednesday) and we’ll see what happens,” he added.
– Senegal fail again –
While Algeria, who last won the competition in 1990, and Ghana can look forward to the knockout stage, Senegal and South Africa are left to wonder what might have been.
Bafana Bafana go home with just one point after throwing away the lead in all three of their matches, although their coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba remained upbeat at how his team performed.
“We played well in qualifying against some very strong teams, and we played well here too,” he said.
However, Senegal coach Alain Giresse was not able to praise his side, who came up short despite only requiring a draw to progress.
And as the Lions of Teranga were left to contemplate another failed attempt to finally get their hands on the continental trophy, Giresse was urged to step down by the Senegalese media.
“My contract has finished,” he reminded them. “The road ends here for Senegal. There will be a lot of changes in and around the team. What happens next I don’t know, but I know what I am going to do.”
Algeria and Ghana will find out their last-eight opponents on Wednesday, when Group D concludes with Cameroon and the Ivory Coast clashing in Malabo while Guinea and Mali meet in Mongomo.
All four sides are currently deadlocked with identical records, with every game thus far in the section having finished 1-1.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, organisers announced that the quarter-finals due to be played in Ebebiyin and Mongomo would be moved to Bata and Malabo respectively.
The decision means that hosts Equatorial Guinea will meet Tunisia in Bata on Saturday rather than in the tiny 5,000-seat Ebebiyin stadium.
In addition, Sunday’s scheduled quarter-final between Ghana and the runners-up in Group D will now be played in Malabo rather than in Mongomo.
Organisers said deteriorating pitches in the towns in question were behind the decision.