The Black Stars were held to a goalless draw at the Tamale Sports Stadium on Friday by the Uganda Cranes in the first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Ghana went into the game needing a win to start the campaign on a good note but they could not get into a good rhythm as the Ugandans held the ball and looked more comfortable.
And Sudanese referee El Fadil Mohamed Hussein’s final whistle will have been met by a huge sigh of relief from the Ugandan camp after the Ghanaians threw all they had their way after the interval.
Towards the end, as the home crowd sensed a breakthrough, dangerman Asamoah Gyan’s close-range header nearly beat goalkeeper Denis Onyango, who had impressed throughout the game, but the Ugandans held on to sail to the shore home and dry.
Group E’s other game will be played on Sunday, with Congo hosting north African side Egypt. In this group, it’s only Ghana and Egypt that have represented Africa at the World Cup before.
At Tamale Stadium, the visitors, coached by Serbian tactician Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, enjoyed a bright start and had a couple of chances at goal but found home keeper Razak Brimah in no mood for any slip-up.
Captain Geoffrey Massa started on the bench and he, too, would have been delighted by his side’s decent display in the early exchanges under sweltering temperatures.
But Gyan, who plays his club football at Al-Ahli Dubai FC, came close to putting the hosts ahead moments after teammate Frank Acheampong was brought down near the edge mid-way into the opening half.
In the heat of the moment, referee Hussein had to call for a water break on a hot afternoon in the northern Ghana town, with temperatures bubbling at an average 27°C.
And as soon as the players had had a splash, and their parched throats offered watery relief, it was back to ping-pong action for the remaining third of the first half, and saw Cranes’ Murushid Juuko enter the referee’s book.
Jordan Ayew proved a constant threat on the attack but the Aston Villa man couldn’t make his lively runs count. While Acheampong was in the late stages of the opening half wasteful, Cranes’ Khalid Aucho made a timely clearance to keep the visitors in the game.
Ghana returned from the break the visibly hungrier side for a breakthrough as both sides made reforms. Agyemang Badu came on for Afriyie Acquah before Uganda’s Geoffrey Massa was introduced in place of Tonny Mawejje, who had lacked his usual spark.
Coach Micho also took off Nicholas Wadada, who had been booked, and brought on Hassan Wasswa Mawanda at the hour mark. Wadada’s booking will be a talking point of this game after he had appeared to have been booked twice but not sent off.
For long periods, second half was all Ghana as the hosts searched long and hard for the opener, but with their many set-pieces bearing nothing and the Ugandans solid at the back, it was a meeting destined for a sharing of the battle spoils.
Uganda’s next game will be against Congo while Ghana next face Egypt. But first, group focus will very much be on Sunday’s match in Brazzaville.
There are five groups of four teams for the African qualification. At the end of this mini-league, the winner of each group will make it to Russia.