The Black Stars and the Super Eagles cancelled each other out in a fiercely contested clash on a steamy night in Kumasi, leaving their playoff tie – and the destination of one of five African berths at Qatar 2022 – delicately poised ahead of the return game in Nigeria next midweek.
Ghana fed off the ferocious atmosphere at the packed venue, launching early attacks in which they tried to use the pace of Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, Felix Afena-Gyan and Mohammed Kudus to get in behind the Nigerian defence.
Nigerian forwards Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Osimhen fed off scraps in the opening quarter, with the latter having only one real opening when left-back Sanusi Zaidu whipped in a great cross which was just beyond the No 9’s reach.
The first notable save from either goalkeeper was made by Nigeria’s Francis Uzoho in the 33rd minute, as he palmed away a thunderous shot from just outside the penalty area by Issahaku.
The Super Eagles began to find some attacking rhythm in the latter minutes of the first half, with their best chance falling to Joe Aribo as he ran onto a ball directed to the right of the penalty area, but the Rangers midfielder blazed a shot high and wide.
The first half came to a close with the teams still locked at 0-0, while the early minutes of the second had Ghana back on top, forcing the visitors onto the back foot with their attacking pressure – though they did not test out Uzoho.
On 55 minutes Black Stars goalkeeper Joe Wollacat was called upon to make his first notable save, turning away a shot from Moses Simon after the winger had cut inside from the left and let fly.
The Super Eagles soon opted for a double change, with Emmanuel Dennis and Frank Onyeka replacing Samuel Chukwueze and Aribo, before Ghana’s Thomas Partey saw a long-range strike deflected just over the target on the hour mark.
Ten minutes later Kudus cut inside from the right and saw his low shot turned away by Uzoho, with the subsequent corner seeing Afena-Gyan missing out on a chance at the far post, as the hosts continued to search for a breakthrough.
The Super Eagles were awarded a penalty with 15 minutes of regulation time remaining, as the high press from Iheanacho and Oghenekaro Etebo forced a hand-ball on the ground from Baba Iddrisu, but a VAR review convinced referee Redouane Jiyed that he was first tripped – leading him to rescind the spot kick decision.
Ghana provided more attacking impetus in what remained of the match, but they were unable to provide a credible threat to Uzoho’s goal as the teams settled for an uneasy stalemate.
Nigeria and Ghana will meet again for the return leg in Abuja on the evening of Tuesday, 29 March.