Ghana skipper John Mensah turned from hero to villain on Tuesday as he netted the winner in the 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations win against Botswana, only to see red in the second half.
The Olympique Lyonnais defender scored in the 24th minute, when he helped in a corner from the left taken by Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, to bring some life to an otherwise dull start to this Group D clash.
The Botswana defenders, who had looked organized and fired up, were guilty of ball watching as the experienced Mensah guided the ball home with his knee after Asamoah Gyan appeared to help on the corner with his head.
However, Mensah received the first red card of the tournament in the 65th minute when he committed a professional foul on striker Jerome Ramatlhakwana, who was clear in on the Ghana goal after a blunder by Anthony Annan.
The Zebras now with a numerical advantage finished the stronger, but they failed to restore parity.
“We controlled the game until the red card for Mensah,” Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic said. “We created some chances, but they closed down the game with 10 men behind the ball. All the same, it was very important that we won our first game of a tournament that has already produced some surprises.”
Botswana coach Stanley Tshosane admitted his team played defensively at the start and said he was satisfied with the overall performance, even though he would have wished for a better result.
“I’m not happy with the result, but with the performance, especially in the second half,” Tshosane said. “We were cautious at the beginning because we have never played Ghana before at this level and so we preferred to study how they play.”
Botswana, who were cagey and defensive in the first half, were more adventurous after the interval.
That approach almost paid dividends six minutes into the second half when they came close to drawing level, but Ramatlhakwana’s header from inside the box was saved acrobatically on the goal-line by Stade Rennais defender John Boye.
Ghana handed Cup of Nations debuts to goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, Boye and Jordan Ayew, with usual rightback Samuel Inkoom preferred for the team’s problematic leftback position.
For debutants Botswana, the only surprise in the starting 11 was Phengo Mongala, who was picked ahead of Abendico Powell, a late replacement for the injured Joel Mongorosi.
The Zebras were also missing their most experienced player, Dipsy Selolwane, who bagged two bookings during the qualifiers and was on a one-match suspension.
The Black Stars enjoyed more of the ball in the first quarter of an hour, but they hardly threatened their opponents’ goal as the Zebras packed their defense.
The lively Andre Ayew was felled around the Botswana box three times as Ghana went in search of an early opening goal.
Botswana often had 10 men behind the ball, with only Ramatlhakwana staying up front as they tried to contain the onslaught.
After Mensah’s decisive goal Ghana continued to dictate the pace.
In the 32nd minute, Botswana defender Ndiyapo Letsholathebe literally put his body on the line to keep out a Sulley Muntari full-blooded shot from the edge of the box.
Six minutes later, Jordan Ayew was set up by Muntari on the edge of the box, but his shot was weak and it did not trouble Botswana goalkeeper Modiri Marumo.
Ghana were now more daring and soon after Gyan found his way through the packed Botswana defense, but his shot flew off target.