The scarcity of goals continued to haunt at the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon as only one goal was scored over the two Group D matches played in Port Gentil on Tuesday evening.
Neighbors Uganda making a return to the AFCON for the first time since 1978 lost 0-1 loss to four-time champions Ghana.
Egypt making their first appearance since winning the championship thrice in a row in 2010 drew 0-0 with Mali in the late kick off.
Uganda had hoped for a positive start to their first tournament in 39 years but Andre Ayew converted a first half penalty to give Avram Grant’s side the win.
Ugandan defender Isaac Isinde gave away a cynical penalty, pulling down Asamoah Gyan after the winger dispossessed him of the ball inside the area.
“In 39 years we have not been there and in the first half we had an element of stage fright,” Milutin Sredojevic, the Uganda Cranes coach said after the match.
The Cranes had a dreadful start to the match and the absence of midfield king pin Khalid Aucho was evident. The former Gor Mahia midfielder alongside defender Murushid Juuko missed the opener as they were serving suspensions for cautions picked during the qualifiers.
Cranes lacked fluidity in midfield and the Mike Azira, Geoffrey ‘Baba’ Kizito partnership in the middle of the pack never ticked. With the recent record between the two sides, Uganda had so much to be confident about ahead of the meeting with the Black Stars.
Ghana had not won any of three encounters against the Cranes spread over the qualifiers for the 2015 Cup of Nations and the 2018 World Cup.
Gyan led from the front
But the West Africans were eager to write off the dark past and skipper Asamoah Gyan kept asking the questions with two headers from the edge of the six yard box going wide.
Christian Atsu had given Uganda left back Joseph Ochaya a torrid evening with his runs and trickery on the ball. Twice he managed to get into shooting positions but both efforts went over.
The deadlock was broken in the 32nd minute thanks to a moment of madness from Isinde. After mis-controlling the ball and Gyan picking it, the Ethiopian-based stopper wrapped his arms around the striker and the ref pointed straight to the spot.
The Ghanaians were forced into a sub with left back Baba Rahman coming off after appearing to have picked up a knee ligament injury. Towards the end of the first half, Uganda grew into the game and their closest chance fell on Faruk Miya whose shot from the right hit the outside of the post.
Tonny Mawejje had a well struck shot from the edge of the area also go narrowly wide, the Ghanaian keeper caught flat out.
Five minutes to the break, Ghana should have been two up but keeper Dennis Onyango, crowned the CAF player of the year based in Africa showed his credentials with a great stop to deny Atsu.
In the second half, the Ugandans pressed Ghana into their own half, but poor decision making in the final third could not open up a door for them to get a goal.
Isinde missed an opportunity to redeem himself with the ball flying over his head on a free heading position. In the late kick off, Egypt and Ghana played to a draw, but there was opportunity for a history making moment.
El Hadary milestone
Goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player ever to appear at the Africa Cup of Nations at the age of 44 years and two days having celebrated his birthday last Sunday.
The Wadi Degla FC shot stopper came off the bench in the first half to replace Ahmed El Shennawy who picked up a hamstring injury after 22 minutes.
Hadary beat the old mark set by compatriot Hossam Hassan, who was 39 when he played at the 2006 Cup of Nations. It was a tactical battle of two great teams which otherwise never produced many goal scoring opportunities.
Before coming off, El Shanawy was forced to bundle a save, racing to the far post to palm away a flicked header from Lassana Coulibaly after he met a free kick from the left.
The Egyptians best chance of the half fell on Arsenal midfielder Mohammed Elneny who sliced a shot inches over after being set up by Mohammed Salah. In the second half, the same tactical battle continued with no much action in the final third.
From a counter attack though in the 54th minute, the Pharaohs should have made it count. Mali midfielder Sambou Yatabare lost the ball in the opposition half, Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim picking and racing to the other end.
Marwan Mohsen’s header from the resultant cross was fisted away for a corner by the Mali keeper Oumar Sissoko.
From the Tuesday results, Ghana lead the group with three points and will guarantee themselves a slot in the last eight if they pick a win over Mali in an all West African affair on Saturday.
Uganda will find themselves planning on a trip back to Uganda if they lose to Egypt.