BRINKMANSHIP: BLACK STARS ON CUSP OF QUARTERS

Dede Ayew was in man of the match mode against Mali Photo Credit: Senyuiedzorm Adadevoh

Time and again, when doubters emerge and the critics hit their high notes, Ghana’s Black Stars find ways to be more than the sum of their parts. After a rigid display against Botswana in which they lost their captain John Mensah to a red card, the Stars had something to prove. Given Guinea’s mauling of the Zebras in the earlier match on Saturday, there was arguably more pressure on Ghana to win this game than Mali. A win against Mali and their qualification is virtually academic.

Ghana duly beat Mali 2-0 in a confidence building display. A wonderful freekick by Asamoah Gyan set the Black Stars on their way. Andre Dede Ayew came to the CAN 2012 party with an equally good piece of individual skill and deservedly picked up the man of the match award afterwards.

Now Asamoah Gyan has got back all the confidence he needs. Then again, from his ‘I am great’ comments not that it ever left. The Stars are surely in the driver’s seat, needing only a point in their last match to ensure qualification to the next round. There was a lot to like about this victory not least the goals.

Masahudu Alhassan was a natural fit at left back, bringing more balance to the team. The team’s win should do him a world of good and he’ll gain lots of confidence. On one occasion in the first half, he was cleverly outwitted by some good Malian wing play. He settled down well after that and looked good pushing forward. For a young player starting his first meaningful international match, he slotted in very nicely. Against Guinea however, he’ll likely need extra support from either Dede Ayew or Sulley Muntari.

Kwadwo Asamoah was a delight to watch as he took on the Malian defenders often leaving them for dead. The criticism of Asamoah is that he is not consistent enough when he plays for the Stars. To the extent that he can maintain his performance, the team will be in good stead. He offered the unpredictability that was missing going forward in Ghana’s game against Botswana. Surely, he’s earned his place in the starting line up for the next match.

The determination Dede Ayew showed in scoring his goal was evident throughout the match. Along with Asamoah, he drove the team forward, often earning freekicks in good positions. Gyan’s goal was a result of one such foul.

Unsung heroes were the makeshift pairing of Jonathan Mensah and John Boye for ably protecting Adam Kwarasey’s goal. Anthony ‘Pablo’ Annan, Ghana’s smallest player is often unsung. However, Barcelona player Seydou Keita’s relatively quiet game was a credit to Annan’s outsized talent and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu’s effectiveness along Annan.

Not to be a killjoy but Adam Kwarasey’s performance on set pieces means there is still cause for concern. Kwarasey has shown good reflexes on shots from outside the box in the past but he can’t continue to flap at set pieces. He’ll have to be more decisive in subsequent matches if he is not to be targeted De Gea style.

Looking ahead, Ghana get back Isaac Vorsah and John Mensah for the final group match. Guinea are far from pushovers and Goran Stevanovic will be glad to have his experienced defenders back.  The play of John Boye means that Vorsah might have to wait his turn. Mensah, if fit will be welcome back with open arms. Guinea’s attackers have trickery for days and will be a test for anyone. Yet, even they lose to Guinea, all Ghana have to do is avoid a heavy defeat and they’ll book their spot in the quarter-finals.

Who said anything about losing though? We’re in it to win it.

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