x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Saudi content holding back Ghana

The World Cup quarter-finalists were held to a drab stalemate in a low-profile exhibition at Al Maktoum Stadium.

DUBAI // Ghana failed to break down a resolute Saudi Arabian defence last night as the World Cup quarter-finalists were held to a drab stalemate in a low-profile exhibition at Al Maktoum Stadium.

The Black Stars opted to continue with the formation that served them so well in South Africa and seven of the players who started against Uruguay in their last-eight play-off featured against the Gulf heavyweights. Asamoah Gyan was deployed once more as a lone striker with Kevin-Prince Boateng pulling the strings just behind and Andre Ayew roaming wide on the left.

Gyan has been in prolific form since joining Sunderland, the Premier League side, from Rennes for £13 million (Dh76m)in the summer and has scored four goals in his last three games. But Saudi defended deep, leaving Gyan to struggle against a sea of white shirts.

The 24-year-old striker, who last month was short-listed for the Ballon d'Or alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, almost broke the deadlock shortly before half time, but his redirection of Anthony Annan's drive from distance was saved superbly by Walid Abdullah.

He found some rare space again midway through the second half, but tamely chested Samuel Inkoom's cross into the path of the onrushing goalkeeper.

Jose Peseiro, the Saudi coach, grew increasingly animated as his team struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities.

Nasser al Shamrani, the Al Shabab striker, was replaced by Abdullaziz al Dosari, but so starved was he of balls in behind the defence that he was often forced to drop deep.

As the game dragged on, Saudi frustration grew and several rash challenges forced the referee to repeatedly stop the game.

With little action at either end, the 300 or so colourfully clad African supporters distracted themselves with dancing and cheering.

Meanwhile, the Saudi supporters - few in number and quiet in demeanour - counted down the clock until they could return to celebrating Eid al Adha with friends and family.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae