The Black Stars sniffed an unlikely point against Portugal, as Inaki Williams lurked in the shadows, ready to pounce on the careless Diogo Costa, but the Ajax sensation Kudus offered a more ruthless edge to the delight of both a nation and continent.
Suddenly a wave of African momentum has swept across Qatar: Morocco’s tenacity to expose cracks in a statuesque Belgium, Cameroon’s determination and fight to claw back a deficit for a point over Serbia and now Ghanaian precision to move to the brink of qualification for the last 16.
It was raw, agricultural football at times, but in a tournament of this magnitude, try persuading this fanbase why that matters.
The lowest-ranked side entering the tournament, Otto Addo leaned heavily on a simple gameplan: Get it in the mixer.
Assistant coach and former Aston Villa and Middlesbrough midfielder George Boateng revealed as much: “We’ve got people who can head a ball, but we will try again to service the box with as many as we can, it’s really important for us. We know with set-pieces we are dangerous and they will struggle with that.”
That they did. But the toil and selfless work of Inaki Williams should not be forgotten amid the glorious and tantalising delivery from Jordan Ayew. The Athletic Club forward resembled a bumper car at the dodgems throughout the contest; retaining possession down the flanks long enough for the Black Stars to shuffle into the final third and flood the box with white shirts, just as Boateng outlined.
There was subtle craft to the gameplan too, with the colossal Daniel Amartey firing off five accurate long balls from as many attempts that resembled frozen rope in their accuracy.
Mohammed Salisu bundled home the opener against the run of play, with Ayew’s impeccable touch sparking chaos inside the South Korea box.
It gifted Ghana validation and Ayew refused to resist subsequent opportunities to swing the ball into the area. The Crystal Palace forward’s Beckham-esque delivery produced a second 10 minutes later; Kudus gambling and then adding finesse with the finish that barely brushed his eyebrows as the ball fizzed past Kim Seung-Gyu.
But just as Ghana proudly admired their work, a vulnerability emerged after revealing a shortcut to success on this grandest of stages. Paulo Bento adopted the blueprint as the Taeguk Warriors did their best impression as the second half resumed, leaning on the aerial prowess of Cho Gue-Sung.
Firstly through Lee Kang-In’s irresistible cross from the left channel, then three minutes later as the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors forward climbed high to bludgeon Kim Jin-Su’s chipped cross past Lawrence Ati-Zigi. It was a predatory centre-forward finish that Didier Drogba, watching on from the BBC studio, would have been proud of.
If Salisu urged caution during his celebration after the opener, then there was no such caution as the Taeguk Warriors pulled level, revelling in the chaotic scenes. They included a roaring Bento racing out of the dugout to celebrate, reminiscent of his compatriot Jose Mourinho’s dance down the Old Trafford touchline.
But just as others started to lose their heads, Kudus kept his. Williams’ wild finish barely altered the trajectory of the ball. His embarrassment was saved by Kudus, who added a serene touch to an otherwise breathtakingly crazy match, burying the ball low past Kim.
A defeat away from exiting the tournament, Ghana now have an opportunity at revenge 12 years in the making. It will be Uruguay and Luis Suarez, the ultimate villain, following his handball clearance in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final, for a place in the last 16. The Black Stars must thank Kudus and his composure for bringing them closer to redemption.
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