Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's Here!! Ghana Wins Cup of Nations Opener

It's finally here! The 2008 African Cup of Nations opened this afternoon in Accra, Ghana with fanfare, celebration and a pulsating match between host Ghana and Guinea that ended with a Sulley Muntari wonder goal in the final minute giving Ghana the victory, 2-1.

The tournament opened with a colorful opening ceremony in the Ohene Djan stadium in Accra, Ghana's capital city. A capacity crowd of 40,000, most of whom were wearing the colors of the Ghana national squad, were treated to a bright, colorful display of traditional dancers from various parts of the country's regions.

In front of a number of VIPs, including Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufour, FIFA president Joseph Blatter, CAF president Issa Hayatou and UEFA president Michel Platini, hundreds of dancers and acrobats staged a spectacular show.

In the blazing sun and accompanied by the beating of several huge drums, artists danced and performed for the enthusiastic crowd, who were also treated to a brief firework display.

President Kufour then opened the tournament, saying that Ghana was proud to host the Cup of Nations.

"Through the magic of television, the whole world will be watching Ghana and the African continent for the next three weeks," he said.

"We are proud to be hosting the tournament and to have welcomed so many people from different countries. Our government has spent a lot of money to ensure that the facilities are good to ensure that this tournament is a success. The best teams are here and I am sure that the tournament will be a huge success."

Then the action started. And from all accounts, it was a pulsating affair. (I *STLL* haven't found a place or internet site to watch the matches ... but behold the power of the Internet ... below are the highlights ... )

Ghana hit the woodwork three times, took the lead 10 minutes into the second half but in then end had to rely on a 25-meter bullet from Muntari to grab all three points at the Ohene Djan stadium.

The home side, whose best efforts came in the first half, held their lead for just 10 minutes before Guinea scored an equaliser and then threatened to spoil the home party in the final stages.

But Muntari (pictured below) delivered a goal following a forceful run just when the 45,000-sellout crowd seemed to be settling for a disappointing draw.

Ghana began brightly and Junior Agogo hit the post with a forceful header after 20 minutes.

Eight minutes later midfielder Michael Essien headed against the same post from a corner and in the 40th minute a snap effort from Muntari also cannoned back off the post.

The opening goal came from the penalty spot when Oumar Kalabane brought down Agogo and Seychelles referee Eddy Maillet pointed to the spot. Asamoah Gyan belted the spot kick high into the net.

Kalabane then made up for his error by grabbing the equaliser 10 minutes later from a corner, his header hitting the underside of the bar before bouncing in off Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson's shoulder.

Guinea could have snatched a win had Eric Addo not blocked Ismael Bangoura's late shot while Ghana substitute Dede Ayew's first touch of the ball was superbly saved by Kemoko Camara.

Good start to the tournament.

Tomorrow? Nigeria vs. Ivory Coast ... two African giants in an early battle for Cup supremacy!

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