Nigeria and Ghana neutralized each other in a high-tempo, no-catching-your-breath, heart-thumping World Cup playoff, first leg encounter inside a tumultuous Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi on Friday.
There was a lot of running and cheer-drawing nutmegs, but goalkeepers Francis Uzoho and Joseph Wollacott shared only a few saves between them in the opening leg of a 180-minute decider for a ticket to the 22nd FIFA World Cup finals.
The iconic Baba Yara Stadium, packed to the rafters, erupted each time the white-clad Black Stars went on the onslaught, but lack of productivity ensured the high-decibel support diminished steadily as time climbed on the scoreboard.
The impressive Mohammed Kudus, Abdul Fatawu, Baba Idrissu, and stand-in captain Thomas Partey showed desperation to put Ghana ahead early in the game but met stiff resistance from Leon Balogun, William Ekong and Zaidu Sanusi.
In the 6th minute, Kelechi Iheanacho very nearly caught an adventurous Wollacott off his line from a 25-yard free-kick, before Balogun manfully thwarted an advancing Fatawu as he bore down on goal in the 15th minute.
The Black Stars were luminous in the first quarter-hour in Ghana’s second city, but once Sanusi cleverly stepped past two persons and his pull-out was only a bit too high for Osimhen, it became a somewhat level playing field.
In the 33rd minute, Uzoho underscored his agility when Fatawu, at the end of a counter, unleashed a scorcing shot. Four minutes later, Osimhen failed to get enough purchase on his shot. Nigeria’s best chance of the half came in the 41st minute when the ball fell nicely to Joseph Ayodele-Aribo, but he lifted the ball a bit too high. Just before the break, Ekong had to come to the rescue as Kudus set up Alex Djiku.
In the second half, Wollacott had to be alert to save from Simon who got himself into a good shooting position, and at the other end in the 66th, Suleman Abdulmumin flighted the ball too high. Uzoho parried from Kudus and Ghana came close from a corner kick but in the 76th minute, Nigeria thought they had won a penalty after substitute Oghenekaro Etebo’s pass was scooped by Gideon Mensah. But after a VAR cheque, Moroccan referee Rédouane Jiyed annulled his own decision.
Both teams clash in the final 90 minutes of the fixture at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, starting from 6pm on Tuesday. The Nigerian delegation to the match in Kumasi returned to Abuja on Saturday morning.