Birthday boy Caleb Ekuban scored a late winner for Ghana in a 1-0 victory over Kenya in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Accra Sports Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Leeds United forward, who is on-loan at Turkish Süper Lig club Trabzonspor this season, made the desired impact off the bench as the Black Stars duly leapfrogged their opponents to top Group F.
Ghana end the qualifying campaign on nine points, two more than the Harambee Stars who, like their counterparts, had already booked their place at this year’s showpiece last year.
Considering both countries had already booked their ticket to Egypt before the match in Accra, it was no surprise that the game wasn’t a classic.
Following a rather slow-paced start, proceedings finally kicked into gear in the 22nd minute as Patrick Matasi punched Christian Atsu’s wicked cross clear of danger with Andre Ayew lurking. The ball duly fell to Thomas Partey in a dangerous position, but he could only succeed in dragging his resulting shot wide of goal.
Ghana had the ball in the back of the net in the 33rd minute. Andre Ayew converted from close range after Matasi parried the attackers’ initial effort, but the referee’s whistle had gone for a foul on the goalkeeper.
The Black Stars continued to boss proceedings with Atsu the main protagonist, and the Newcastle United winger was at it again two minutes before the break: whipping in a low cross into a dangerous area, but the Ghanaian skipper failed to convert once more.
Kenya’s first shot in anger fell to the burly Masoud Juma shortly after the break. The former Cape Town City forward fired a powerful shot at goal from an acute angel, but Richard Ofori was well positioned to make a good save.
The game continued to ebb and flow with neither team really testing the opposition goalkeeper before Ekuban made his mark.
Having emerged from the bench just after the hour mark, the forward took his time to settle into the game before delivering a piece of individual skill in the 82nd minute. Ekuban let the ball roll past him before chasing after it and firing a low left-footed drive past the Kenyan goalkeeper to send the home fans into delirium.
His goal proved the difference between the two sides as Ghana rose above their opponents to end top of the qualifying group.
Ghana (0) 1 (Ekuban 82′)
Kenya (0) 0
Ghana: Ofori; Asamoah, Opare, Boye, Opoku, Partey, A.Wakaso (Ekuban 61′), Atsu, Agbenyenu, A.Ayew (Aidoo 87′), J.Ayew (Boateng 76′).
Kenya: Matasi; Mayeko, Otieno, Onyango, J.Ochieng, Omomdi (B.Ochieng 78′), Kahata, Wanyama, Ouma Etieno, Odhiambo, Juma (Mutamba 60′).