Ghana are out of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after losing 4-5 on penalties to Tunisia in the Round of 16.
The match, played at the Ismailia Stadium, had ended 1-1 after extra time.
But Caleb Ekuban’s saved penalty saw the Stars bowing out of the tournament to the Carthage Eagles, who converted all their five kicks.
The result is a stark contrast to general expectations across Ghana prior to the game, probably as a result of the Black Stars’ record against the Tunisians in the tournament.
The best result of the North Africans had been a draw in 1963.
But the two-time champions did not hide their intention to break the jinx of Ghana’s dominance after nearly opening the score in the 7th minute.
Andy Yiadom’s timely tackle in the box prevented an opener on the night for the Tunisians.
Just two minutes later, Afriyie Acquah, starting for the first time in Egypt, was brought down near the centre circle. The resultant freekick saw Mubarak Wakaso hitting straight at goalkeeper Mouez Hassen.
But another set piece a few minutes later saw Kasim Nuhu’s header coming off the goal post, having completely beaten Hassen.
Nuhu had to come to the rescue of Ghana in his own half after a great interpositional play from the North Africans saw Yassine Khenissi’s shot nearly going past goalkeeper Richard Ofori.
With the Eagles’ threatening the Ghanaian defence, the Black Stars had to scale up their play and this paid off with a few minutes to end the first half after a shot from Acquah took a deflection off the Tunisian defence for a corner kick.
The scramble after the corner kick saw Thomas Partey finding captain Andre Dede Ayew, whose flick beat Hassen in post.
However, South African referee Victor Gomes whistled for an infringement, initially judged as a handball against Partey.
Not the numerous protests by the Ghanaian players would change Gomes’s decision.
The two teams went into the break scoreless with the Tunisians dominating possession 53 per cent.
After all attempts by the two teams to break the deadlock including a 51st minute shot from Serbia-based Samuel Owusu parried to the corner, Tunisia coach Alain Giresse effected the first substitution.
He brought on Saint-Etienne’s Wahbi Khazri for Anice Badri.
The Frenchman’s changes paid off within minutes as a dash into the Ghanaian penalty area saw the ball go just past the post with the Tunisians calling for a handball against Kasim Nuhu, though the call was ignored by Gomes.
The resultant corner kick saw Khenissi’s ball hit the woodwork.
But he did not fail in the 73rd minute. A flick by Khazri located right-full back Wajdi Kechrida who beat his marker Baba Rahman and sent in a cross.
Khenissi’s connection came off the inside of the post and beat Richard Ofori.
With the Tunisians all but set to book a place in the quarter-finals, the Black Stars pushed harder to force the match into extra time, at least.
Wakaso’s shot in the 79th minute, for instance, went off the post.
Coach Kwesi Appiah also made changes, bringing on strikers Ekuban and Asamoah Gyan at different intervals, a statement of his desperation for goals.
But the goal that Ghanaians searched for came by way of a Rami Bedoui own goal in the 90th minute, forcing the match into the expected extra time the Black Stars desired direly.
By the close of regulation time, the Ghanaians were shading possession 53 per cent over the Tunisians.
The 30 extra minutes did not produce any goals though strikers of each team came close. Gyan’s header was saved by Hassen while Khazri’s shot was saved by Ofori.
But a golden opportunity came to Jordan Ayew in 115th minute after Gyan had flicked a header his way. The Crystal Palace striker, who is Ghana’s leading scorer at the tournament with two goals, shot wide.
With a few minutes to go, the two coaches made changes ostensibly influenced by penalty kicks.
Rahman’s place was taken by Lumor Agbenyenu for Ghana and goalkeeper Farouk Ben Moustapha came on for Hassen, who was furious with his coach’s decision.
But the changes paid off for both coaches, after all.
Agbenyenu scored Ghana’s fourth kick while Moustapha saved Ekuban’s kick.
The shootouts ended 5-4 for the Carthage Eagles.
Tunisia will next play Madagascar for a semi-final place.
Ghana’s wait for its fifth trophy, consequently, continues.
By Emmanuel Kwame Amoh|3news.com|Ghana