ACCRA: Hosts Ghana overcame the expulsion of skipper John Mensah to make it into the African Nations Cup semi-finals with Ivory Coast securing the other last-four spot from Sunday s quarter-finals.
Ghana did not buckle under the weight of a nation s expectations in a memorable win against Nigeria in Accra, Claude Le Roy s team coming from a goal down and playing much of the second half with 10 men to prevail 2-1.
In the later match, in Sekondi, 2006 finalists Ivory Coast lived up to their billing as one of the tournament favorites by crushing Guinea 5-0.
The Elephants led 1-0 at half-time thanks to a Kader Keita goal, and captain Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou (twice) and Bakary Kone were on target as Guinea fell apart. The Ivorians reward is a semi-final date with either defending champions Egypt or surprise packages Angola, with Ghana set to face the winner of Monday s other quarter-final featuring Tunisia and Cameroon. Ghana were by far the superior side against Berti Vogts Super Eagles, but they fell behind to a Yakubu Ayegbeni penalty with Ghana s midfield maestro Michael Essien grabbing a first half injury time equalizer to send the 45,000 capacity crowd into raptures at the Ohene Djan stadium. Mensah was given his marching orders with half an hour to go when he clipped the heels of Lokomotiv Moscow striker Peter Odemwingie. But Ghana showed plenty of backbone and even at a numerical disadvantage continued to outplay the Nigerians. With seven minutes left on the clock Sulley Muntari set up Nottingham Forest striker Junior Agogo to boot home the winner.
Mensah s red card leaves him suspended for both the semi-final and next Sunday s final, should Ghana make it, with Essien in line to inherit his captain s armband.
Le Roy felt referee Mohamed Benouza was unduly harsh on his skipper. I don t know whether John deserved the red card. The referee was very fast to send him off. This case was not clear cut, said the coach.
We took a risk not to change our formation and bring on a defender after Mensah had been sent off but we wanted to keep attacking. We wanted to win it. The Frenchman, who turns 60 on Wednesday, had special praise for his players. I m so proud to be the Ghana coach, congratulations to them all. They were heroes to first come back from a goal down, then hold on and get the winner, he said. Ghana s Portsmouth midfielder Sulley Muntari said the team had pulled together once their captain was out of the picture.
When John was sent off we were all conscious of the responsibility on our shoulders. We couldn t lose this match. It was a great effort to beat Nigeria, who aren t a weak side, with a man down. Vogts said his team could go home with their heads held high.
I m very disappointed, we paid dearly for our mistakes, said the German.
But I have a young team, they re not so experienced as Ghana who were in the last World Cup. My boys gave 100 percent today. We lose together, we win together. Up in Sekondi Ivory Coast coach Gerard Gili said of his side s impressive victory: It was a complicated match up to the second goal.
I always underline the discipline and the willingness of my players. Guinea didn t play badly and Robert Nouzaret (Guinea s coach) has done a good job. We have a team that doesn t doubt itself. We were here to put up a big performance and we never doubted we d get it.
Nouzaret said he d picked a team that could trouble the Ivorians. But unfortunately once again the defense gave away a gift. We tried to get back into it in after the break but after the second goal we didn t have any morale left.