Still savoring the Black Stars victory? After watching Cameroon blow an opportunity to start off its competition by giving Africa its second victory, who could blame you?
The Black Stars win over 15th-ranked Serbia was impressive not just because of the reputation of their opponents but for the way the Stars played. The team that started the last friendly match against Latvia was the one that started against the Serbs save Richard Kingson, Hans Sarpei and John Pantsil. That means this was only the second match that the core had started together. In that game against Latvia it was clear there was some chemistry. They passed well and they defended well. But the problem they faced was they could not find the net despite their dominance.
In the game against Serbia, it was clear that the starting 11 had built on the chemistry and that the performance against Latvia was no fluke. They passed well, and attacked through the middle and on the flanks and above all played with an energy that was only matched in the stands.
The Stars started out positively and in the first 20 minutes controlled the game especially in midfield. Kwadwo Asamoah had some deft touches to create space and won a couple of free kicks in dangerous positions that we failed to capitalize on. As dominant as we are in possession sometimes in these games, we are not opportunistic enough when presented chances and this game was no different. Yet, the only way you could see Serbia punishing the Stars was through a defensive mistake or from a set-piece where the tall striker Nikola Zigic would take advantage. It did not happen.
The Serbs decided that the best way to attack was to bypass the midfield and insisted on launching passes from defence directly to their strikers either to feet or into space. Our defenders coped with it fairly well with the only blemish being Isaac Vorsah’s yellow card in the first half for an unnecessary and dangerous tackle. The defence led by captain on the day John Mensah was helped by a collective willingness to be disciplined when not in possession but Anthony Annan and Kevin-Prince Boateng’s effectiveness at snuffing out their attacks deserve special mention.
As the match went on in the second half, it was impossible for the Stars to maintain the pace with which they began the match and the Serbs had a good 15-20 minute spell before and just after they had a man sent off in the 74th minute. In that time, Richard Kingson made a telling point-blank save that kept the score at 0-0. Our pressure and determination to attack and get a win against ten-man Serbia paid dividends with the penalty that was taken by Asamoah Gyan. Gyan had a chance to put the game to rest after a wonderful pass from the “Tornado,” Stephen Appiah but it was not meant to be as the ball teasingly drifted onto the post. Still, a good result and great way to start the competition.
Watching the game live and then subsequently yesterday, I could not help but feel that this team has another two levels it can reach if the flow is not disrupted by injury or suspension. They are only scratching the surface of their potential. I hope the team can keep its focus, build on this result and not take Australia lightly in their next match. They must come out with the same purpose they showed in the first game. If they do that, we should have six points and should have qualified for the next round come Saturday.
When asked to single out the player who was man of the match on the Ghana team, the coach of Serbia, Raddy Antic in his press conference refused to single out any. He said it was a collective victory. I have to agree with his assessment. But in the spirit of collectiveness I will name five players outside of the officially named man-of-the-match Asamoah Gyan that impacted the match.
Coach Milovan Rajevac explained that Kwadwo Asamoah was substituted because he was not fully fit in the days leading to the match. Milo must have wiped a few beads of sweat off his face when Asamoah was declared fit and with good reason. It is obvious that Kwadwo Asamoah is our new creative force. He is fleet of foot and his skills and general football sense are clear whenever he is on the field. Against Serbia, he started off well drawing freekicks in dangerous positions and providing some good service to the flanks to Dede and Prince Tagoe. He was also on the receiving end of some tough challenges, maybe a recognition by the Serbs that he was the man to stop. His influence waned as the match went on but overall still very effective.
For a player that does not usually play in the position he is being asked to for Ghana he seems pretty comfortable. Coach Milovan was asked about his play and he said Boateng is “tactically very good.” If that means he plays with energy, tackles quite well, does not find himself out of defensive position very often, adds pace when Ghana is moving forward and has what they call “ball sense” then I can’t disagree with that assessment.
Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew
Dede Ayew in my view was man of the match. He has his detractors with some saying he hangs onto the ball too long and is possibly too individualistic. I have always been a fan of Dede because he is like one of those people in your family who you know has a good heart but sometimes makes one or two questionable decisions. You ignore the bad and cherish the good. In this game, Dede was to be cherished. His overall contribution to the team cannot be underestimated. He tracked back and supported Hans Adu Sarpei so he was not on an island. He went forward and joined the attack putting in a few great crosses while keeping Branislav Ivanovic busy and unable to bomb forward at will. He also played a more central role during the latter part of the game and helped to settle the game. But above all his spirit is an infectious one. He plays hard and is always happy to give 150 percent. It is hard not to like that kind of player.
On his birthday, Kingson showed why he is still Ghana’s number one. We do not get the 1-0 result unless Kingson makes that beautiful point blank save. Simple as that.
Ghanaians always want the flash and skill of a Kwadwo Asamoah but increasingly we all realize that players like Anthony Annan no matter how invisible or unspectacular they are count. He constantly broke up passes, made himself available to the other midfield players as a release for their passes whenever the middle got congested and his own passing ability is underrated but essential for this team.