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Tuesday, 23 January 2024 05:32

History repeats itself as Black Stars stunned by AFCON minnows.

By Michael Beardmore.

Ghana conceded twice in stoppage time to throw away a two-goal lead to draw with Mozambique and almost certainly exit the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Black Stars looked to be cruising into the last 16 thanks to two Jordan Ayew penalties, one in each half.

But Geny Catamo pulled one back from the spot on 91 minutes before Reinildo Mandava's header broke Ghana hearts.

Mozambique finish bottom of Group B, while Ghana need a miracle to progress as one of four best third-placed sides.

It is still mathematically possible for Chris Hughton's side to qualify for the knockout stages but, with just two points to their name, they need a number of results in other groups to go their way.

If they do exit the competition, the four-time champions can have few complaints, having not only looked lethargic throughout against the Mambas but in their previous outings as well.

When the board went up for six minutes of additional time, the West Africans were heading through as runners-up, leapfrogging Egypt, who were drawing against Cape Verde in Monday night's other Group B game.

And while the Pharaohs briefly took the lead, they were pegged in the 99th minute in a 2-2 draw - meaning Ghana would have gone through at Egypt's expense had the Black Stars not capitulated.

A tale of three penalties - and two Ayews

Ghana were fortunate to have amassed a 2-0 lead, with neither of the penalty decisions awarded to them looking exactly clear-cut.

However, despite vociferous Mozambique appeals, the video assistant referee saw no reason to ask the match official to overturn his calls on Nanani's faint contact on Joseph Paintsil and Mandava's handball.

The first penalty rewarded Ghana's bright start but their urgency disappeared after Crystal Palace forward Ayew slotted them ahead and it was the Mambas who created the better chances in open play.

Joao Bonde was guilty of a glaring miss from a header, while Lau King also nodded wide and Bruno Langa was foiled by Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori.

So, when Ayew doubled their lead from the spot after Mandava blocked Mohammed Kudus' shot with an arm slightly away from his body, it seemed the Black Stars would get away with their below-par display.

Victory would almost certainly have assured progression, either as runners-up if Egypt failed to win, or as a third-placed team with a healthy four points to their name.

But the tide turned when Andre Ayew's needless handball was punished by Catamo's cool penalty - and, three minutes later, Mandava's looping header evaded Ofori to scarcely believably find the top corner.

The late debacle will increase the pressure on under-fire boss Hughton, whose side have won just one of their past eight matches and are now in danger of a second successive Afcon group-stage exit.

After picking up just one point in the 2021 edition, Ghana have fared little better in Ivory Coast and are now winless in their past seven Afcon finals matches - a huge fall from grace for the four-time champions.

For Mozambique, meanwhile, there was much to celebrate despite finishing bottom - as against Egypt in their opening game, they showed they could compete with one of the continent's heavyweights.

They are still yet to record a win at an Afcon finals after 15 attempts but their displays here, and against the Pharaohs - when only a stoppage-time Mohamed Salah penalty denied them - suggest that wait may not take much longer.

But perhaps the biggest winners from this game were host nation Ivory Coast - whose hopes of progressing as one of the best third-placed sides look much brighter than they did after their 4-0 thrashing by Equatorial Guinea earlier on Monday.