At the end of yesterday’s game against Australia, the Black Stars sat on top of group D with four points. A quick glance at the standings from all groups in the competition so far will show that thus far only two teams have two wins from two games. This is to say that the world cup is the world cup for a reason. It is not supposed to be an easy tournament. Therefore, we should appreciate where we are in this tournament and take Milovan Rajevac’s words to heart. After the game he said, “the result is quite good.” He added that “we would be in the same position even if we won,” as we would have had to get a result against Germany in the last game.
And given the chances that Australia had getting to the end of the game to win, he may be right that this was a good result. In many respects we were fortunate not to have lost. Also, as this writer notes, this may prevent us from taking the Germans for granted. So, all in all, good if not great.
But my oh my, what a missed opportunity? “We blew it! We let them off the hook!” is what I and probably most Ghanaians feel and want to scream right now. We had an opportunity to join those elite teams who have six points and be in a stronger position with regards to qualifying to the next round. In recent memory two wins usually takes you through to the next match.
So where did it all go wrong?
From a karma point of view, maybe the signs were there before the match when it was announced that our two central defenders who were so effective in dealing with the Serbs were out injured. I was concerned not because I thought the replacements were in of themselves bad but because it usually takes time for central defenders to develop an understanding and this was definitely a setback.
Overall, I thought the replacements did well but for two mistakes. Jonathan Mensah lost the ball after dwelling on it too long in the last ten minutes. Lee Addy also had his moment in the first half and got cautioned for a needless tackle. Yet it is too easy to say that happened because of inexperience. After all, in the Serbia match, the ‘experienced’ defenders also had some shaky moments. It is easier to focus on those shaky moments in a match we probably should have won than in a match we actually won. But I thought they performed creditably and can only get better going forward. If for nothing at all, they gained some valuable experience to deal with the Germans if either or both John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah’s injuries prevent them from facing Germany. Jonathan Mensah after the game said, “it was my biggest moment and I think I did my best.” I couldn’t possibly argue with that.
Where the game was lost was in the second half when our players started playing ‘hero football.’ Everyone of them wanted to be the hero and match winner. That meant shots from outside and players taking on defenders in areas of the pitch that if they lost the ball the Australians could have capitalized. They lost their identity of being a pass first, patient build-up team and went for the killer pass or killer shot. Now, I admire players who want so desperately to win and are trying everything they can. But when it happens out of the context of what you set out to do, it can lead to the kinds of breakdowns that allowed Australia to seize the initiative and almost go on to what would have been a famous victory for them and an embarrassing defeat for the Stars.
Another area I thought the game was lost was in the substitution pattern. I agreed with the timing of the Prince Tagoe change. He didn’t have as much energy down the right flank as in the first game. But I thought we would bring in Samuel Inkoom to both provide defensive balance and a forward thrust. Inkoom provides the running and crossing down the flank that I thought we missed. I also thought that around the 75th minute mark our team began to lose some direction and could have used the experience and ability of someone like Stephen Appiah. In the first game against Serbia, when we were losing the initiative to the Serbs and they were on the ascendancy, I thought Appiah brought back that calmness and direction. He could have done the same in this game. I didn’t really disagree with the Matthew Amoah change as I thought it was positive. I also think Amoah plays better when playing with another striker. However, bringing him on so late in the game I am not sure what his impact would have been. It was a decision which Milo explained was because with two strikers there was more of an opportunity to be broken down defensively.
Here are a few things of concern.
1. We have not scored from open play, a point this article makes. What happens if we do not get a penalty?
2. We seem to switch off at key moments in a match. Coach Rajevac always talks about needing maximum concentration but in our two matches we have lost concentration at key moments in the second half.
3. Ze Germans will be rueing their missed opportunities against Serbia and will be hungrier for success. Can we hold them off?
4. Considering the hits our defence is taking John Pantsil’s injury at the end of the game is worrying. The last thing we need is for injury to take our starting right back. Again, this is not questioning Samuel Inkoom’s ability. I think he is a fine right back and probably has every right to start a match. The issue is that after two games these players are building a rhythm. It becomes familiar to them. Putting a young player in in what is a pivotal game against one of the top sides in the world is not exactly what you bargain for heading into the world cup.
1. Dede Ayew continues to emerge as one of our most dependable players. He has for two matches in a row played with energy purpose and a hunger that is infectious. Yesterday, the coach used him all over the field as he tried to unlock the Australian defence.
2. Jonathan Mensah and Lee Addy gained a wealth of experience and hopefully confidence because like it or not, John Mensah’s injury worries are still present and we need to think of suitable replacements. For Jonathan especially, this must have been an interesting challenge as he had not played in the African Nations Cup.
3. As bad as we feel this morning, we must bear in mind that we did not lose. We got a point and have as good a chance to qualify as anyone. With the right tactics, belief and a little luck we are in the second round.
We still have all to play for and hopefully that provides the necessary motivation for the boys to give off their best and get a result.