Ghana cruised into the African Cup of Nations quarter–finals after outclassing plucky Niger in Port Elizabeth.
The Black Stars knew they needed a win to be assured of top spot in Group B and goals from Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu and John Boye duly brought the points at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
James Kwesi Appiah’s side flew out of the blocks and into a sixth–minute lead courtesy of captain Gyan and the game was as good as done once Atsu doubled the lead from Gyan’s cross midway through the first half.
Boye’s third put extra gloss on a convincing win which moves Ghana into a quarter-final clash against the Cape Verde Islands on Saturday.
The four–time Cup of Nations winners appear to have recovered from the opening wobble against Congo DR and will head into the knockout stages confident of ending a 31-year drought for another title.
The Nigerien’s put up spirited yet limited resistance, but we take a look at which of the Black Stars shone brightest.
Abdul Fatawu Dauda: 6
Abdul Dauda still managed to look unconvincing despite a thoroughly one-sided win for Ghana
The Ashanti Gold goalkeeper was grateful to the referee for giving a foul after Niger equalised when he dropped a routine cross, and he continually looked unsure under high balls.
The 27-year-old was given great protection from an organised defence but that solidarity was not particularly replicated and few of the Black Stars looked impressed when Douda came flying out of his area for no reason just before the end.
Looks the weak link in an otherwise strong unit.
John Paintsil: 6.5
John Paintsil is the oldest and most capped member of the Ghanaian squad and that experience was on show in a solid and steady performance.
The former Fulham defender gave little away from his right-back berth and offered no encouragement to Niger as they gamely plugged away looking for their first goal of the tournament.
The 31-year-old didn’t particularly get forward with any vigour but he was constantly communicating with the rest of his back four and will be a key defensive figure when Ghana come across more quality in the later stages.
Isaac Vorsah: 7
Vorsah forms one half of a powerful Ghanaian central defensive partnership with John Boye and the duo’s pace and proactivity dominated a weak Niger attack.
The Red Bull Salzburg star won many of his aerial duels with Moussa Maazou and kept tabs on the lively Boubacar Talatou without much fuss.
Had to be alert early on when the game was still a contest and the 24-year-old helped his team find their flow with some sensible distribution from the back.
Greater tests lie in wait for Ghana but coach James Kwesi Appiah will have few worries about the pillars of his defence.
John Boye: 7.5
Much like Isaac Vorsah, John Boye was relatively untroubled by a limited Niger attack and will move into the knockout stages heartened by a second successive clean sheet.
The Rennes stopper had to be aware of the counter with Ghana on the front foot for large periods and his mobility and smart reading of the game allowed him to recover to snuff out whatever promising move Nigerien’s managed to put together.
Brought the ball out from the back with purpose and won plenty of aerial battles in either box. Rounded off an assured display by prodding home his side’s third goal from close range after Kassaly Daouda spilled Gyan’s header.
Harrison Afful: 6.5
Another who will have to demonstrate more defensive mettle against stronger opposition, but who could not be faulted as Ghana outclassed the rank outsiders.
The Esperance Tunis left-back had a quietly effective game as the rest of his colleagues ran the show from start to finish.
Niger did try to exploit Afful’s lack of height and swung over an array of long diagonal balls for Maazou to attack, but the 26-year-old stuck to his task and challenged well.
Afful tried to push forward more than Paintsil on the other side and linked up well with Christian Atsu at times, however, his crossing and final ball lacked quality and his place in the line-up could be under threat if coach Kwasi Appiah decides to change his tactics.
Albert Adomah: 6.5
Doubled up well with Paintsil in making sure Niger didn’t get in down their side but his distribution was mixed and he wasted a number of decent crossing opportunities.
The 25-year-old Londoner was hooked for Solomon Asante after an hour and he will have to improve on this show in the latter stages.
Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu: 7
Udinese‘s Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and midfield sidekick Mohammed Rabiu bossed the central areas allowing Ghana to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Badu was strong in the tackle and passed well short and long as the Black Stars overran Niger.
His powerful running and calm use of the ball shone throughout and the 22-year-old constantly looked to join attacks with Rabiu more content to sit.
Was booked for a clumsy tackle after half an hour but otherwise had a very effective match.
Mohammed Rabiu: 7
Ghana have kept two clean sheets in the two games Mohammed Rabiu has played and the Evian ace was an assured presence at the base of the Black Stars midfield.
Rabiu seemed happy to sit and take responsibility for defensive duties whilst Agyemang-Badu bombed forward and that relationship worked well throughout as the Ghanaians eased through the gears.
The 23-year-old showed good positional awareness and picked up plenty of loose ball before moving it on shrewdly and sharply to orchestrate moves.
Was substituted for Derek Boateng with 20 minutes to go but should hold on to his spot for the quarter-final clash with the Cape Verde Islands.
Christian Atsu: 7.5
Atsu returned to the starting line-up in place of Mubarak Wakaso and justified that selection with a goal in a lively performance.
The Porto youngster began from the left and troubled Niger with his direct running style which created plenty of problems all evening.
The 21-year-old’s third international goal gave a good indication his talent as he started and finished a swift move down his side, swapping passes with Gyan before firing home from close range.
Became less effective as the game drifted towards a close but undoubtedly gives Ghana a threat out wide which could prove vital as the tournament goes on.
Kwadwo Asamoah: 8
Asamoah Gyan may be the Ghanaian folk hero but Kwadoh Asamoah is arguably the Black Stars’ premier player.
The 24-year-old has been a regular starter for Serie A giants Juventus this season following a summer switch from Udinese and his class shone through in an advanced operating just off Gyan.
Asamoah floated as the second striker and his intelligent movement wasn’t dealt with by either the Niger defence or midfield.
He adroitly linked attacks together and his mix of tricks and flicks and created an abundance of chances across the contest.
Faded before the end but his undoubted quality will be a big factor in any success the Ghanaian’s may achieve.
Asamoah Gyan: 8.5
The Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan scored one and set another two up as his side eased into the quarter-finals.
Gyan fired the Black Stars into a sixth-minute lead after collecting Adomah’s pass and slotting past the Niger Goalkeeper.
The goalscorer then turned provider for Atsu to double the advantage and the former Sunderland striker was also involved in Boye’s third just after the break.
Passed up a number of presentable opportunities to add to his tally before being withdrawn with 12 minutes remaining, but his class was evident all game and Gyan has the ability to spearhead the team to Cup of nations glory.
Solomon Asante: 6.5
Asante came on as a substitute for Albert Adomah just after the hour and immediately looked a more accomplished player than the man he replaced.
Took Adomah’s spot on the right wing and revelled in his side’s 3-0 lead to exploit the ample space afforded to him as Niger wilted.
Couldn’t score or create a goal but his mobility and willingness to attack his man looks to give Ghana another dimension, albeit one that may be better adopted coming off the bench.
Derek Boateng: 6.5
Enjoyed a 20-minute cameo after replacing the impressive Rabiu and used the stage to demonstrate his ample ability.
The game was all but over when Boateng entered the fray but the Dnipro midfielder wasted little time in getting on the ball and showcasing a neat range of passing.
Was dropped following the Congo draw and may not make his way back in with Rabiu and Badu working well in tandem but Boateng shows the depth within the Black Stars squad.
Emmanuel Clottey: 6
Came on for Gyan in the closing stages but struggled to get involved as the game petered out towards its conclusion.
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