DR Congo fightback holds Ghana in thriller
African Cup of Nations Group B, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth – Ghana 2 (Agyemang-Badu 40, Asamoah 49) DR Congo 2 (Mputu 53, Mbokani pen. 69)
Ghana and DR Congo more than made up for a goalless first day of the African Cup of Nations with a thrilling 2-2 draw in their Group B opener in Port Elizabeth.
Four-times winners Ghana scored either side of half time to move into a 2-0 lead through Italy-based midfielders Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Kwadwo Asamoah.
But Claude LeRoy’s DR Congo – who almost did not play after threatening strike action against a federation which has failed to pay staff expenses – had been more than a match for the Black Stars, and they deservedly levelled through star players Tresor Mputu and Dieumerci Mbokani.
Both sides could have won it late on but a draw was a fair result, and one which makes for an interesting group that also features restive neighbours Mali and Niger, who play later on Sunday.
There was widespread disappointment when Saturday's first two matches of these finals both ended goalless, particularly given African football's reputation for joyous attacking play.
But there was little doubt that one of these two sides would find the net, particularly given the attack-minded formations on show.
With Ghana missing the Ayew brothers and Michael Essien, DR Congo looked the better side in the first half as Lomana LuaLua hit the crossbar, Mputu put over from a good position, and LuaLua again had an effort deflected wide.
But the Black Stars were an occasional threat on the break, Asamoah Gyan putting one gilt-edged opportunity wide after Derek Boateng put him clean through, so when they did score it was not surprising even if against the run of play.
However, hopes of a comeback appeared to have been put to bed as Asamoah exploited some slack marking to head Mubarak Wakaso’s corner into the roof of the net four minutes into the second half.
The Congolese would not be cowed though and they hit back immediately, and it some style too as Mputu clipped home a cool finish with the outside of his right boot after a delightful through-ball by Dieumerci Mbokani.
It was Mputu’s 14th goal for DR Congo, the 27-year-old choosing to spend his whole career thus far with local club TP Mazembe, despite consistently good performances at the Afcon.
The match had opened up now and Ghana could have extended their lead when a surging John Pantsil run opened up the Congo defence, but Mpeko Issama put in a vital block with his chest.
Ghana sub Mohamed Rabiu then forced a decent save from eccentric Congo keeper Muteba Kidiaba, and seconds later Claude LeRoy’s side were right back in it as defender Jerry Akaminko hauled down Mbokani in the penalty area.
It was a clumsy foul after the Anderlecht striker left him for dead with a smart turn, and Mbokani completed the comeback with a cool finish from the spot.
Ghana had all-but thrown the match away and they responded by piling on the pressure, Kidiaba making a series of saves as high balls and long shots rained into the Congo box.
But defeat would have been harsh on both sides, with Mali facing neighbours Niger later on Sunday in a local derby that could see one of the Saharan nations go top of the group.