Ghana reaches final playoffs for WCupAP , Associated Press
Sep. 6, 2013 3:56 PM ET
KUMASI, Ghana (AP) — Ghana seized one of seven remaining places in Africa's final playoffs for the World Cup on Friday when the 2010 quarterfinalist beat Zambia 2-1 in their winner-take-all Group D match.
Zambia, the 2012 African champion, was eliminated from World Cup contention.
With Michael Essien returning to international action, Ghana's victory at Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi saw it join Ivory Coast, Egypt and Algeria in the decisive playoffs in October and November, the two-legged ties which will end a two-year qualifying competition and decide the five African countries to play in Brazil next year.
The last six playoff teams will be decided on Saturday and Sunday.
Majeed Waris put Ghana ahead in the 17th minute and Kwadwo Asamoah doubled the Black Stars' lead in the 62nd. Nathan Sinkala grabbed a 72nd-minute goal for Zambia which turned out to be a consolation strike as Ghana qualified as group winner and avoided the defeat that would have seen it crash out and Zambia progress instead.
Real Madrid midfielder Essien was a second-half substitute and returned from his long international absence despite the recent death of his father to play the final 35 minutes in Kumasi. Essien missed the World Cup in South Africa and the last two African Cups through injury and had barely played for his country for three years.
Ghana didn't need to call on Schalke's Kevin-Prince Boateng, who also was on the bench after reversing his 2011 decision to retire from internationals and put himself back in contention to play in Brazil next year.
The Group D decider was marred by bickering between the two teams after Zambia complained it was locked out of the Baba Yara Stadium in the buildup to the crucial encounter and had been forced to train in a car park near the venue. The Ghana Football Association said in a statement hours before kickoff that the Zambian squad had arrived two hours late for its scheduled training session on the eve of the game and had "opted" to train by their team bus in a "desperate bid to paint Ghana in a bad light." The GFA said Zambia was allowed to train at the stadium on Friday morning.
With a place at football's biggest tournament at stake, African champion Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal and Tunisia are among the favorites to seal their places in the playoffs over the weekend.