A second-half brace from Mubarak Wakaso gave Ghana a 2-0 victory over minnows Cape Verde in the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations at Port Elizabeth.
After a terrible first half, tournament debutants Cape Verde dominated the second period but second-half substitute Wakaso converted a penalty and scored again in the dying seconds after the opposition goalkeeper went up front.
Cape Verde had spurned countless opportunities to equalise, a combination of poor luck, poor finishing and excellent keeping from the faultless Abdul Dauda keeping them at bay.
Indeed, seconds before Wakaso completed his double, Dauda had made a fantastic flying stop to deny dangerman Heldon a long-range screamer: it was from the corner that Ghana put the gloss on an unconvincing victory.
Four-times winners Ghana, favourites alongside Ivory Coast, march into the last four but will have to improve on this showing if they are to win a first title in three decades.
The first half was more notable for a series of feigned injuries than for any decent play from either side.
Cape Verde had set their stall to defend, which they did well enough, while Ghana were predictable going forward, looking too often for high balls to Asamoah Gyan that the likes of Nivaldo and Nando gobbled up.
The closest anyone came to a chance – let alone a goal – were a couple of long-range Heldon efforts that the Maritimo forward hit over the bar, while Ghana’s best efforts were crosses from Christian Atsu that just failed to find their targets.
It could only improve, and the second half saw Cape Verde start positively as Julio Tavares saw his towering header saved by Dauda.
They were threatening from set pieces but managed to concede immediately after one as Ghana exploited their big men’s attempts to get back in position after going up for that free-kick.
Gyan had found the space to run through on to a long ball, and he drew a clumsy foul from right-back Carlitos, the cousin of Manchester United star Nani conceding the penalty.
Wakaso, only just on, rolled the ball down the middle and Ghana had a barely deserved lead.
Cape Verde continued with their new attacking mindset and, having been unfortunate to go behind, were equally unlucky not to equalise as they rained balls into the Ghana box, with the at-times shambolic Black Stars defence struggling to cope with set pieces.
Babanco and Heldon were sending in superb free-kicks and corners which kept dropping agonisingly short of team-mates as Dauda and co flapped wildly under pressure from the likes of Tavares, Nivaldo and Neves.
There were chances from open play too, as Dauda kept out a Heldon effort, Toni Varela kicked air in the box and Dauda saved superbly from both Heldon and sub Djaniny.
Ghana were more concerned with defending their lead than feeding off the scraps Gyan and Wakaso were given, and it was desperate at times as they somehow escaped punishment for some slack marking and wild clearances.
The final minutes saw the Black Stars begin to exploit the spaces left by an over-committal Cape Verde attack, as Emmanuel Ageymang-Badu’s goal-bound finish was blocked by Nivaldo, with Nando doing likewise to keep out a Solomon Asante effort.
Cape Verde were agonisingly close to forcing extra time when, in the fourth minute of added time, a Heldon free-kick forced a world-class save from Dauda.
Keeper Vozinha – whose only real act all match had been to concede a penalty – came up for the corner, and with all his defence forward there was nothing to prevent Wakaso from running it in as Ghana cleared.
That provoked delirious celebrations from Ghana as they move into their fourth African semi-finals in a row; Cape Verde bow out in the knowledge that they have done themselves proud in their first Afcon appearance.