The returning Asamoah Gyan struck a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Ghana kick-started their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a 1-0 Group C victory against Algeria in Mongomo on Friday.
Gyan missed his side’s opening 2-1 defeat to Senegal on Monday after contracting a mild bout of malaria, but he was brought back into the starting line-up by coach Avram Grant for a must-win encounter against the Algerians and snatched all three points in the second minute of injury time.
“He was not fit, he did not train, but he is Asamoah Gyan, one of the greatest players I have worked with,” enthused Grant.
Ghana’s Udinese midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu added: “The difference today was that our wonderful captain returned to the team.”
Gyan’s goal lit up what had been a dire contest on a bobbly surface and allowed Ghana to move level with Algeria and Senegal on three points in the group before the Lions of Teranga face pointless South Africa later.
Algerian defender Djamel Mesbah described the defeat “as a big disappointment” for the north Africans.
“Now the game against Senegal on Tuesday will be our cup final. We do not have a choice but to win,” he said.
Along with the return of talisman Gyan, the only other change for the Black Stars at kick-off saw Afriyie Acquah come into the midfield.
For Algeria, meanwhile, Madjid Bougherra came into the centre of the defence and took the captain’s armband, while Ishak Belfodil was rewarded for an impressive showing from the bench in the win against South Africa with a start at the expense of Islam Slimani, who had a foot problem.
Nevertheless, this was not a game for attacking players, with the first half in particular a scrappy affair marred by crunching challenges.
Andre Ayew was caught above the ankle from one high tackle, while Algeria star Yacine Brahimi was himself the victim of a bruising interception in midfield.
The Black Stars sought to take the game to their opponents after the restart, and Jordan Ayew dribbled into the box from the left only for his final shot to lack power and cause Rais Mbolhi in goal few problems.
Harrison Afful then dug out a cross from the right which was headed across goal and wide by Gyan at the near post, before Jordan Ayew flicked a driven ball from his brother Andre just over from close range.
Meanwhile, Algeria took 66 minutes to really threaten, Sofiane Feghouli breaking into the Ghana box from the left and drilling a shot across goal, only for the ball to flash wide of the far post.
Both sides made changes in an effort to find the breakthrough in the closing stages, although Ghana coach Grant opted to leave the clearly tiring Gyan on.
And Gyan rewarded his coach with the winner right at the death, latching onto a hopeful long ball downfield from Wakasu Mubarak and outpacing Carl Medjani before firing across Mbolhi and into the net from a tight angle.
“Gyan changed the game for us in the very last seconds. He was great,” said Andre Ayew.