Asamoah Gyan showed class to secure a vital victory for Ghana's Black Meteors after struggling to beat the Amaglug-glug of South Africa 3-1 in their Olympic group qualifier at the El Wak stadium yesterday.
Last month, the Meteors beat the Amaglug-glug by the same margin in the first leg qualifier played in South Africa.
The Udinese striker hit a brace, scoring a goal in each half with Greece-based Bernard Yao Kumordzi also finding the back of the net to send the Meteors on top of Group A ahead of Nigeria, their next opponents in Accra on November 18.
Gyan not only set the Meteors on the winning path with the opening goal from a clinical header in the 17th minute, but his late strike was also a well-timed masterclass that took the steam out of the South Africans who had put Ghana's goalmouth under siege in search of an equaliser.
Ghana's third goal was a collector's item and was one of few bright spots in the second half in which the home side had lost the plot to the well-organised Amaglug-glug team that attacked in droves. These left the Meteors exposed at the rear where centre-back Isaac Vorsah proved a pillar in defence and took care of threatening aerial balls and made timely clearances.
Flattering as the scoreline might seem, the South Africans generally ran the show, particularly after recess, but paid dearly for lack of marksmanship by their strikers who messed up several scoring opportunities and failed to punish the Meteors for some sloppy defending.
A large turnout by fans, including splinter supporters groups, provided the needed charged atmosphere to power the Meteors to victory, but they did not make their territorial advantage to count much, allowing their opponents to run at them and subject the partisan crowd to tense moments until Gyan opened the floodgates in the 22nd minute when he outjumped his markers to head home Skipper Michael Helegbe's free-kick.
As early as the 10th minute, goalkeeper Eric Nii Baah pulled off a spectacular save, diving full length to parry to corner a non-drop volley by Dan Klefe after Ghana's defence was caught off guard by a fast break by the swift South African strikers.
The Meteors took charge of the game late into the first half, with Helegbe pushing the attacking trio of Abdul-Nafiu Iddrissu, Prince Tagoe and Gyan, in search of more goals until Kumordji increased Ghana's tally, firing home a waist-high volley in the 37th minute.
Expectations of a goal rush by Ghana faded quickly in the second half as the visitors overpowered the duo of Kumordji and Anthony Annan and took charge of the midfield and kept pounding Ghana's goalmouth with sustained pressure.
Nine minutes into the second half, Ghana's defence cracked under pressure as swift winger Eleke Rogers delivered a measured cross for target man Ervin Issac to head home South Africa's only goal.
This injected extra adrenaline into their system as they grew in confidence and came close to scoring on a number of occasions.
Issac's goal provided a lifeline that the Amaglug-glug hung onto in the hope of catching Ghana cold gain, but just when the Metoers were living dangerously in defence, Gyan latched on to a pass, outturned his marker and ran deep into the South African penalty box before placing the ball beyond the reach of goalkeeper Humeley Khune, sending the crowd into raptures.
Ghana: Eric Nii Baah, Daniel Addo, Michael Akuffo/Abdul Khalid, Bawa Mumuni, Isaac Vosah, Anthony Annan, Benard Kumordji, Michael Helegbe/ Kwadwo Asamoah, Asamoah Gyan, Prince Tagoe, Abdul-Nafiu Iddrissu/Obed Ansah.
Story by Maurice Quansah