By: Kwaku Oduro
Ivory Coast had to dig deep to beat their West African neighbours, Ghana on penalties to qualify to the final of the U-23 AFCON in Egypt and also pick up one of the three slots reserved for Africa in next year’s Olympic games in Tokyo.
Ghana went down in the 13th minute when Ivory Coast striker Yousouf Dao beat the offside trap with the Meteors’ defense caught ball-watching and calmly placed the ball pass goalkeeper Kwame Baah.
Ibrahim Tanko quickly introduced two-goal hero Kwabena Owusu into the game to replace Robin Polley in the 27th minute. Kwabena Owusu almost announced his presence with a goal when he showed great skill and power and fired a shot from 18-yards but was way off target.
Ibrahim Tanko once again showed that he is a master of second halves with Ghana showing great sense of urgency and purposeful attacks and against the run of play in the 51st minute, captain Yaw Yeboah fired home Ghana’s equalizer.
The game was fairly balanced until in the 85th minute when in similar faction a well measured cross from Ivory Coast left-back Silas Gnaka found the head of the unmarked Yousouf Dao who headed home his team’s second goal and his personal second.
Ghana fought for an equalizer and thought they had earned a penalty in the 90th minute when striker Kwabena Owusu was brought down in the penalty area of the Ivoirians but the referee waved it off and Kwabena Owusu scrambled the ball to Evans Mensah who excellently hit the ball past goalkeeper Eliezer Ira Tape for Ghana’s equalizer to force the game into extra time.
At the end of 120 minutes nothing could separate the two teams with the game ending at 2-2 and headed for penalty shoot-outs.
Ivory Coast won 3-2 on penalties with Emmanuel Coudjoe and Kwabena Owusu all missing their shots.
Ghana can still qualify for the Olympic Games if they beat their opponent in the 3rd place encounter.