A solitary strike from Mubarak Wakaso handed Ghana a 1-0 home victory over Ethiopia in Group G of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers at Cape Coast Stadium on Friday.
The win sends the Black Stars to the top of the table ahead of Monday’s matchday two showdowns away against South Africa, who played out a 0-0 draw in the other group game.
Ghana coach CK Akonnor put faith in China-based Wakaso and Real Mallorca man Mohammed Iddrisu Baba to marshal the midfield in the absence of the first-choice pair of Arsenal’s Thomas Partey and Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus.
Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp was deployed on the left wing, shifting Stade Rennes youngster Kamaldeen Sulemana to the right, while captain Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew led the attack in a front-two.
Ethiopia coach Wubetu Abate unsurprisingly named an all-home-based XI, led by the striker and captain Getaneh Kabede.
Despite being ball-dominant from the get-go, it took 19 minutes for the Black Stars to create a clear scoring chance when on-loan Reading left-back Baba Rahman delivered a ball across goal, begging a tap-in. Jordan, however, failed to connect, letting the visitors off the hook.
Four minutes later, there was bad news for Ghana as Schlupp went down for a suspected hamstring injury, forcing his early substitution by fellow Germany-born Daniel-Kofi Kyereh who came on for his international debut.
With little to do in the first half, Black Stars goalkeeper Richard Ofori-Antwi was called into proper action for the first time in the 31st minute, when Remedan Yusef sent a looping cross into the box.
In the 35th minute, Ghana broke the deadlock thanks to Wakaso. The midfielder’s shot from long range was fumbled by goalkeeper Teklemariam Shanko, who could only helplessly watch the ball roll through his legs into the net.
Captain Kabede attempted the visitors’ second shot on target of the day but his free-kick was no trouble for goalkeeper Antwi.
After the first half, Shanko did not return to the pitch, probably for his earlier howler, as his place was taken by Fasil Gebremikael.
The Walias did not only return with a new goalkeeper but also with renewed energy as Shimelis Bekele released a shot from long range, moments before captain Kabede also tried his luck with another effort from distance. Both attempts went off target.
In the 73rd minute, substitute Yaw Yeboah dispossessed his marker, drove towards goal, and hit a powerful long-range effort which was parried away. Andre pounced on the rebound, but goalkeeper Gebremikael was alert to produce another save.
With Ghana clearly struggling for clear openings in the second half, Jordan tried a long-range shot for a possible second goal but his effort was coolly handled.
In what was Ethiopia’s closest attempt in the second stanza, substitute Cherenet Gugesa drilled a low shot from just inside the box, forcing goalkeeper Ofori into a diving save before Iddrisu tapped the ball away to safety.
It was to be the last major chance of the game, as the hosts walked away with three valuable points.