The tiny archipelago nation of Comoros pulled off one of the all-time great African Cup of Nations (AFCON) upsets with a 3-2 Group C victory over Ghana on Tuesday, dumping the four-time champion out of the tournament in Cameroon.
Having only been admitted as a member of FIFA in 2005, Africa’s fourth smallest country – ranked 132nd in the world – stunned a Ghanaian side dotted with Premier League stars on their tournament debut to secure their first ever AFCON win.
Ahmed Mogni’s close-range finish five minutes from time decided a pulsating match, sparking euphoric dressing room scenes and giving Comoros a chance to qualify for the knockout stages as one of four best-ranked third-placed sides, should results in the remaining undecided groups go their way.
Comoros’ elation serves as a stark contrast to the ignominy of Ghana’s defeat. The Black Stars – whose spine included Leicester’s Daniel Amartey, Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey and Crystal Palace forward Jordan Ayew – had not failed to progress from the group stage in 16 years.
The humiliating manner of exit will heap pressure on manager Milovan Rajevac who, having led Ghana to within mere minutes of the World Cup semifinals in 2010, was reappointed in September last year.
The Serb must now rally his team ahead of the critical third round of Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers in March, wherein Ghana will be in pot two of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) draw.
Comoros had already made history just four minutes into the match when striker El Fardou Ben Nabouhane rifled a low drive past Ghanian goalkeeper Jojo Wollacott for the country’s first ever AFCON goal.
A nightmare start for the four-time winner was made even worse when André Ayew was controversially sent off for a challenge on Comoros goalkeeper Salim Ben Boina.
The Al Sadd forward collided with the shot-stopper following an attempt to pounce on a spilled catch from Ben Boina, who was subsequently taken off injured and replaced by Ali Ahamada between the sticks.
Comoros doubled its lead after halftime when Mogni, having done brilliantly to work room from Partey, struck low past Wollacott from just inside the box – instigating a joyous choreographed group celebration among the team and substitutes.
Ghana responded almost instantly when Richmond Boakye nodded home from a corner and were later level courtesy of another corner just over 10 minutes from time when Alexander Djiku tapped in Partey’s header.
Yet the fairytale was not to be denied – Mogni converting Bendjaloud Youssouf’s fizzing low cross to secure his brace and a historic win for the island nation.
Another piece of AFCON history was made on Tuesday, as Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga headed an all-female officiating line-up during Zimbabwe’s 2-1 victory over Guinea in Group B.
In doing so, Mukansanga, 35, became the first woman to referee a match at the tournament, with Cameroon’s Carine Atemzabong and Morocco’s Fatiha Jermoumi assisting. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) duty was assumed by Jermoumi’s compatriot, Bouchra Karboubi.
On January 10, Mukansanga had made history by becoming the first woman to officiate an AFCON when she served as a fourth official in Guinea’s earlier group game against Malawi.
CAF’s Head of Referees, Eddy Maillet, said: “We are super proud of Salima because she has had to work exceptionally hard to be where she is today.
“We know that for a woman, she has had to overcome serious obstacles to reach this level and she deserves a lot of credit.
“This moment is not just for Salima but for every young girl in Africa who has passion for football and who sees herself as a referee in the future. “