Asamoah Gyan hands Ghana last-gasp victory
MONGOMO, Equatorial Guinea -- Three thoughts on Ghana's 1-0 win vs. Algeria in Group C of the African Cup of Nations.
1. Gyan returns to save Grant
Asamoah Gyan, who missed Ghana's opening game vs. Senegal having contracted malaria, was the Black Stars' hero with an injury-time winner that secured Avram Grant's team their first points of the tournament, and very much saved the Israeli some blushes.
Ghana had seemed content with a 0-0 draw from the start, before Gyan's late, late strike -- a right-footed shot after he outsprinted Carl Medjani -- sent fans and players into pure pandemonium. The man they call "Baby Jet" showed the sort of clinical touch that was missing in their first match and was a considerable upgrade on Jordan Ayew as a starting striker.
Before that, Gyan had had an average game by his standards, spurning a couple of half-chances to suggest he was slightly off the pace, before he showed just how important he is to this side.
Nevertheless, despite the win, there remains reason to be concerned. After their 2-1 loss to Senegal, Black Stars fans must have hoped for a more positive approach, especially after South Africa proved that problems can be caused to Algeria when teams go out at them at pace. Yet Ghana were seemingly unwilling to utilise the likes of Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu in the first half.
The second half was an improvement, as Grant's side made sure possession-loving Algeria were unable to keep the ball for any extended period. Gyan and Jordan Ayew missed chances, and the introduction of Mubarak Wakaso seemed to improve things. Indeed, it was the substitute whose long pass led to Gyan's decider.
Grant remains unconvincing as a coach, but winning will make things a little more comfortable, at least in the short term.
2. Bentaleb's wing woes
A pregame glance at the Algeria team sheet led to some slight confusion. As well as the lack of a striker, Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez was dropped, which led to some debate as to how those selected would align.
Ishak Belfodil and Saphir Taider came in respectively to replace the benched Mahrez and the rumoured-to-be-injured Islam Slimani, who later came on as a second-half substitute, and there was an unexpected twist on the left of midfield.
Nabil Bentaleb was the man manager Christian Gourcuff asked to play wide, presumably to add some defensive cover for left-back Faouzi Ghoulam, who was up against Atsu. Furthermore, Bentaleb's consistent passing could also offer an outlet to recycle possession, given the other options Algeria had for creativity in attacking midfield.
The problem was that the move didn't really work. While Mahrez's poor performance in the game against South Africa may have merited his dropping, the replacement of his pace with Bentaleb had limited impact and the experiment ended in the 71st minute, when the Leicester winger was introduced at the expense of Mehdi Lacen, which in turn allowed Bentaleb to return to his native central role.
3. Second group games continue to disappoint
After what was generally regarded as a very good start to the tournament, initial positive play and exciting results seem to be petering out, as Ghana and Algeria extended the theory that teams have calmed down for the second round of games.
In what was a fairly physical game that featured more than one flashpoint between opposing players, aggressive tackles from Afriyie Acquah of Ghana and Algeria's Aissa Mandi set the tone for the first half, with the slightly whistle-happy nature of the referee making it even more difficult for the game to flow.
Ishak Belfodil was a particular sufferer, with some decent hold-up play resulting in little else but fouls upon him. He was put out of his misery when he was replaced by Slimani.
With five goals in the last five games at the tournament, the only solace spectators can take is that at least it should make for an exciting final round, with the frequency of draws meaning that there is plenty of scope to "go for it" with qualification on the line.
In the context of Group C, it does leave things very balanced ahead of South Africa vs. Senegal, with Ghana suddenly far more positive about their chances of advancing thanks to Gyan's late heroics.
Sam Crocker has been interested in African football since completing his undergraduate dissertation on the African Nations Cup. After becoming an editorial assistant at Sandals for Goalposts, he has since done writing for The Telegraph and Four Four Two, as well as more general football writing for Squawka. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam_Crock.