PORT-GENTIL – Asamoah Gyan headed Ghana into the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday while Uganda were condemned to an early exit after an agonising defeat to Egypt in Port-Gentil.
Gyan scored the only goal of the first match of the day in a Group D double-header in the Gabonese port city, securing a 1-0 win for the Black Stars against Mali.
On an awful pitch, seven-time African champions Egypt had substitute Abdallah El Said to thank for the 89th-minute effort that gave them a 1-0 win over Uganda, who become the first team to be eliminated.
Four-time winners Ghana, the runners-up in 2015, are one of only two teams to have clinched qualification for the quarter-finals with a match to spare, the others being Senegal.
“In tournaments you need to be winning games and that is what we did today,” said Gyan, who has now scored at six consecutive Cup of Nations tournaments.
“We are satisfied about our performance. Whether we play an excellent game or not, at the end of the day we just want to win and move forward.”
After back-to-back 1-0 wins, Avram Grant’s side will secure top spot by avoiding defeat when they play Egypt in their last group match on Wednesday.
The teams had been prevented from warming-up on the pitch in order to prevent the damaged surface from further deteriorating, and when the game began it was Ghana who adapted quickest to the conditions.
Andre Ayew should have put the ball in the net rather than poke wide from a Christian Atsu assist, before the goal arrived in the 21st minute.
Gyan headed in a Jordan Ayew cross for his eighth goal at the Cup of Nations – his first came on home soil in 2008 – and Ghana then soaked up Malian pressure after the break.
Mali, who were eliminated from the group stage after a drawing of lots in 2015, must now beat Uganda in their last match and hope Egypt lose if they are to stay in the competition.
“The players are disappointed but not completely knocked down. They will be ready to lift their heads for the last match,” said the Mali coach Alain Giresse.
‘Hard to accept’
Egypt need only a point to be sure of their progress after taking their chance when it came with a minute left against the Ugandans.
Hector Cuper’s side had drawn 0-0 with Mali in their first match and were heading for another goalless stalemate until Mohamed Salah set up substitute El Said to lash home.
Back at the tournament for the first time since winning a third consecutive trophy in 2010, the Pharaohs have not impressed so far in Gabon but are now within touching distance of the last eight.
“It was difficult on that pitch and in this climate but we won and that is the important thing,” admitted Cuper.
It was a crushing blow for the Ugandans, who lost 1-0 to Ghana through a penalty in their first match and looked certain to take a point against Egypt before the late goal.
Bottom of the group without a point, their first appearance at the Cup of Nations since 1978 will stop at the group stage, regardless of what they do against Mali in Oyem on Wednesday.
“We have come after 39 years and paid for the lesson in a hard way. If you lose in a convincing way you accept it, but in this way it is very hard to accept,” said Uganda coach Milutin Sredojevic.
On Sunday, hosts Gabon must beat Cameroon in Libreville to be sure of progressing to the last eight.
A defeat will eliminate them, while a draw will leave them at the mercy of the result in the other Group A match between Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo visited the Panthers squad on Saturday and goalkeeper Didier Ovono said: “The President shared with us the impression that it is double or quits. This is a first final for us.”