Ghana went through as winners of Group B after a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Niger in their African Cup of Nations clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Chasing their fifth continental crown but their first for 31 years, the Black Stars, who only needed to draw the match to seal a place in the quarter-finals, assumed a two-goal cushion inside the first 23 minutes as Asamoah Gyan and Christian Atsu produced clinical finishes.
Defender John Boye netted a third to make certain of the result in the 49th minute, and Niger could not respond as Ghana went through as group winners with seven points to set up an encounter with Cape Verde in the last eight.
Niger made one change from the team which held DR Congo last time out as midfielder Issoufou Boubacar was replaced by Boubacar Talatou; the Black Stars, meanwhile, replaced the banned Mubarak Wakaso - who scored the winner against Mali - with Atsu.
Ghana came into the match knowing that they only required a point to qualify for the quarter-finals, while Niger had to hope that a win would see them through if Mali were to draw with DR Congo, and it did not take long for the Black Stars to take the lead. Albert Adomah stormed down the right and cut the ball back to Gyan from the byline, and the striker took a touch before lashing it home beyond a helpless Kassaly Daouda.
Defender Boye preserved his side’s slender advantage with a brilliant last-gasp sliding challenge to deny Modibo Sidibe a close-range shot on goal after a pinpoint cross from Boubacar Talatou just two minutes later.
Niger believed they had equalised in the 10th minute as the ball was bundled home by Koffi Dan Kowa, but it was harshly disallowed as the referee took exception to a challenge on Fatau Dauda, and it was a soft free kick for the keeper.
Atsu doubled Ghana's lead as he combined to good effect with Gyan: he slid the ball down the left for the former Sunderland striker, who then collected the precise cross and poked a fine finish beyond Daouda and into the far corner of the net.
Sidibe should have pulled a goal back for Niger as he ghosted in to meet a fine cross from Ouwo Moussa Maazou, who had outstripped two Ghana defenders with a pacy run down the right, but the forward stumbled over from close range and the chance went begging.
Daouda denied Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, who drove a fierce shot from the edge of the box just before half-time, but within minutes of the second half Ghana had extended their lead. Asamoah whipped over a deep cross to the back post, where Gyan forced Daouda into a save to his left, with Boye afforded a tap-in from just a yard out.
A flurry of substitutions ensured that it was a fragmented second half thereafter, with Niger unable to threaten in the final third and Ghana comfortable.
Niger offered little going forward as they sought to limit the damage at the back, and a spate of yellow cards kept the referee very busy in a disappointing second half that petered out after the third goal.
Only some wayward shooting prevented Ghana winning by a far greater scoreline but they did enough to top the group with seven points, while Mali secured second spot on four points after their 1-1 draw against DR Congo.
Ghana progress full of confidence with Gyan among those afforded a break in the second half as his side prepare for their quarter-final with Cape Verde in Port Elizabeth, while Niger - who lost all three games on their African Nations Cup debut last year - had to settle for just their first finals point in the campaign after drawing with Congo on Thursday.
- Sports & Recreation
- Asamoah Gyan