It was all set at the Port Gentil Stadium, Gabon, for Ghana’s Black Starlets to once again lock horns with the Menas of Niger.
Both teams looked aggressive and positive in the first quarter of the first half. The Nigeriens didn’t look as easy on the field of play as many Ghanaians had perceived.
A fantastic save from their goalkeeper, Khaled Lawali Ibrahim in the 17th minute, in a clear chance by Ghana’s Gabriel Leveh, demonstrated their determination.
In the 29th minute, Ghana’s captain and top scorer, Eric Ayiah, surprisingly missed a chance for the game-opener.
The Ghanaian side continued to squander all their opportunities, ending the first half goalless, keeping their tournament clean-sheet intact, though.
Ghana looked more impressive in the first minutes after the interval, pressing to break the deadlock.
Yet, Khaled kept defying the Starlets. After saving a freekick in the 61st minute, Ayiah’s freekick three minutes, later.
After both sides made substitutions, the story stayed the same, with the Nigeriens containing the Ghana attack, and hardly mounting any meaningful attack.
However, four minutes from time, the Menas beat Ghana keeper, Danlad Ibrahim with a freekick that beat the Starlets wall but not the upright.
The ball bounced into play but the momentum had passed for Niger, and with it, any chance of an upset.
After an additional two minutes of play, the result stayed goalless, ushering in the penalty shootouts.
Both teams netted their first three penalties, then Danlad Ibrahim stepped up to deny the Nigeriens their fourth spot.
However, the Ghanaian euphoria lived short when Khaled dove to his left to stop top scorer, Eric Ayiah’s kick, keeping the score at 4-4.
Hope seemed lost for the Starlets after their skipper’s miss, but in their 7th kick, the Nigeriens hit the cross bar, handing Ghana the chance to end Niger’s stubborn opposition.
Up stepped pivotal player Emmanuel Toku, who showed Khaled Lawali Ibrahim the difference with an excellent conversion that started a Ghanaian celebration felt around the continent and beyond.
Ghana have now qualified to their first finals since 2005, to meet the defending champions, Mali who tamed Guinea 2-0 in the other semi final.
”We have given people of Port Gentil real entertainment.
“It was a very tactical match and I want to congratulate Niger for giving us a very good match,” said Ghana coach, Paa Kwesi Fabin in a post-match interview.
Now, the action-proper is on! Would Mali retain their title or would Ghana cap an exciting campaign in style to prise the trophy from the Malians.
That should be the mission of Paa Kwesi Fabian and his boys, Sunday, as a first step of reclaiming Ghana’s grand standing as one of the giants of world juvenile football.
STORY BY: Elikem Justice