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Just Imagine

Thrilling Ghana fall just short of glory

  • Story Highlights
  • Hosts Ghana finally beaten in a 1-0 semifinal defeat to Cameroon
  • The Black Stars had beated archrivals Nigeria 2-1 to reach the last four
  • Chelsea's Essien has been inspirational for Ghana throughout tournament
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By Simon Hooper for CNN
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(CNN) -- Ultimately home advantage and the expectations of an excitable nation were not quite enough to propel Ghana into the final of the African Nations Cup, but the hosts certainly gave it their best shot.

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Ghana's Harrison Afful celebrates the Black Stars' win over Nigeria.

Having electrified the West African nation with four straight victories, culminating in a 2-1 win over archrivals Nigeria in the quarterfinals, Thursday's semifinal against Cameroon proved one game too far for the Black Stars as they went down to a 1-0 defeat.

"I was never as sad in my career as I am today," said Ghana's French coach Claude Le Roy. "It's a terrible deception to lose this game. I can understand how sad the people of Ghana are tonight."

Still, Ghana's supporters can still savor the memories of their ragged, chaotic win over Nigeria just a few days ago -- a result that had sent a tide of unrestrained celebrations rippling out from Accra's electric Ohene Djan Stadium across the entire football-crazy west African nation.

In that game, a late goal by the Nottingham Forest forward Junior Agogo -- one of the more unlikely stars of the tournament -- had sealed the home side's hard-fought victory after Ghana had played the final half hour without their captain, John Mensah, sent off denying Nigeria a clear goalscoring chance.

But the Black Stars' other hero in the tournament was a more familiar one: midfield colossus Michael Essien whose thumping header from the edge of the penalty area seconds before halftime had wiped out Yakubu's earlier penalty for the Super Eagles.

Essien had also triumphed in the central midfield battle, out-muscling his Chelsea teammate John Obi Mikel and then ensuring Ghana held their shape by dropping into defense following Mensah's dismissal, displaying the sort of versatility that has made him one of the best players in the world for the past couple of years.

Ghana's defeat also seemed to have robbed the tournament of the enticing prospect of watching Essien go head-to-head with another Chelsea teammate, Didier Drogba, whose Ivory Coast side had trampled over Nigeria, Mali, Benin and Guinea, scoring 13 goals en route to the last four.

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Strangely, that contest will still go ahead after the highly fancied Ivorians were surprisingly thrashed 4-1 by defending champions Egypt in the day's other semifinal.

And while Saturday's third place playoff between the Black Stars and the Elephants may not be the main event of the weekend, at least it gives the hosts and their supporters a chance to sign off from their own party in style. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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