REPORT: Ghana win as Egypt and Mali draw
A first-half penalty from forward Andre Ayew proved enough to give Ghana a 1-0 victory over Uganda in their Africa Cup of Nations Cup Group D opener at Port Gentil.
The Black Stars, who were beaten on penalties by Ivory Coast in the 2015 final, had the better of the first half, going ahead on 32 minutes when Ayew converted from the spot after Asamoah Gyan had been hauled down.
Uganda, who have qualified for the finals for the first time since 1978, were much improved after the break but could not conjure an equaliser.
After Uganda midfielder Tonny Mawejje fired in early warning shot from a tight angle on the left, Ghana were soon on the offensive.
Captain Gyan glanced a header just wide before Ayew’s goal-bound effort was saved after being picked out in the penalty area following a break down the right by his brother Jordan Ayew, the Aston Villa forward.
Just after the half-hour mark, Uganda gifted Ghana a penalty when defender Isaac Isinde lost possession and then pulled down Gyan as the Al-Ahli Dubai forward broke in the right side of the area. Andre Ayew made no mistake from the spot.
The Cranes, who held Ghana to a goalless draw in their 2018 World Cup qualifier in Tamale during October, had a chance to go into the break level but Standard Liege midfielder Faruku Miya saw his angled drive hit the outside of the post.
Uganda regrouped following a couple of changes and on 64 minutes, Joseph Ochaya’s angled 20-yard drive flew wide before Miya’s effort was saved.
Avram Grant’s side could have snatched a late second when Christian Atsu cut into the penalty area, but the Newcastle midfielder’s snap-shot was beaten away by Uganda goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
Elswhere in the group, Egypt and Mali played out a goalless draw during their opening Group D meeting.
Mali had gone close to breaking the deadlock on 13 minutes when Moussa Marega sent a deep ball into the penalty area from the left, which Lassana Coulibaly tried to glance into the far corner, but Egypt goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy turned it behind at full stretch.
However, the Zamalek stopper soon picked up an injury and was eventually forced off in the 24th minute, which saw veteran Essam El Hadary, who turned 44 on Sunday, sent on to become the oldest player to compete in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
When the action resumed five minutes later, Mohamed Salah broke down the right before cutting the ball back to the edge of the penalty area where Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny sent a side-footed effort just over.
Mali pressed again late in the first half, as Coulibaly just failed to connect with a flying header after the ball was whipped in from the right through a packed Egypt penalty area.
Egypt went close early in the second half when a bullet header from Al Ahly frontman Marwan Mohsen was acrobatically pushed over by Eagles keeper Oumar Sissoko.
El Hadary was alert to quickly close down Marega as the Vitoria de Guimaraes forward looked to snatch a late winner for Mali.