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Themba Hadebe, Associated Press
Botswana's Jerome Ramatlhakwana, left, is challenged by Ghana's Anthony Annan, right, during their African Cup of Nations Group D soccer match at the Stade de Franceville in Franceville, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2012.

FRANCEVILLE, Gabon — Ghana captain John Mensah scored before being sent off on Tuesday as the title contender surrendered its early superiority in a nervous 1-0 win over lowly Botswana at the African Cup of Nations.

Mensah forced the ball in from a corner in the 25th minute to cap a dominant first half for the four-time winners at a half-empty Stade de Franceville.

But Mensah was shown a straight red card in the 66th after dragging down Jerome Ramatlhakwane on the edge of the area, forcing Ghana to hold on in a game it was expected to win with ease.

Botswana had threatened a stunning upset when only a desperate goal-line clearance from John Boye earlier in the second half prevented Moemedi Moatlhaping's header from equalizing.