Ghana’s Black Stars got off to a shaky start, Sunday, in their 2013 African Cup of Nations Group B opener against Democratic Republic of Congo. Memories of our 2-0 lead will quickly make way for second-guessing Coach James Appiah’s selection and substitutions. By the way, why the sudden reference to Appiah as James? Isn’t it ironic that a coach appointed on the back of a nationalistic, pan Africanist fervor is now being referred to by his ‘English’ name? It has always been Kwesi Appiah aka Akwasi in my book. But let’s not digress.
Some will point to Andre Ayew’s exclusion as a reason why we didn’t win yesterday. After all, seeing him on the score sheet for his club, Marseille over the weekend was only going to fuel conspiracy theorists who insist that he was dropped for reasons other than injury. I disagree with those that think Andre’s inclusion would necessarily have won the game.
The defensive discipline and organization that the Black Stars exhibited during Milovan Rajevac’s tenure is no more. The decline begun under Goran Stevanovic and Kwesi Appiah has yet to stem it. In our last friendly before the tournament against Tunisia, there were signs of defensive frailty and confusion.
Defensive mistakes are the biggest reason why we didn’t win yesterday. Prior to the game, I tweeted my concern about our back four because they had not played together as a unit in a competitive match. Defense is probably the most complicated position on the pitch to play as it takes familiarity with one another to prevent elementary mistakes. Building defensive team discipline however is a team effort that starts the moment a team loses the ball. In the first half, we did not do a good job of keeping the ball let alone reacting alertly when we lost it.
Defensive ability also has to do with the personnel on the pitch. That we have not solved our left back problem is glaring.
Twenty minutes in, it was obvious that Claude Leroy had dedicated the match to exposing Kwadwo Asamoah as a left back. Wave after wave of Congolese attack was launched from Asamoah’s end. He fought off some but was inadequate on others. As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig but it will remain a pig. His instinct is not one of a defender. Asamoah is good defensively when he is deployed as a midfielder. He tracks back well, true to his Italian education. Make him an out and out defender and he is not as convincing. Kwesi Appiah describes him as a ‘utility player’ but he is no Sam ‘Foyoo’ Johnson, Ghana’s last able ‘utility player’.
The Congolese used the attack the left back as though your lives depended on it approach to create a few clear-cut chances in the first half hour of the match. They, rather than Ghana, could easily have been up 2-0. Lomano Lua Lua hit a shot that goalkeeper Abdul Dauda Fatawu parried onto the crossbar. From an almost identical move, Mbokani skied a shot. Congo was threatening.
Ghana had their chances too. Derek Boateng played through Asamoah Gyan but with only the keeper to beat, Gyan dragged the ball wide. Cue the unnecessary abuse from Ghanaians on my timeline. That spurned chance was a microcosm of Gyan’s play throughout the match. He lacked sharpness and despite 150 percent effort, he seemed unable to do what his mind was willing his body to do. The fact that we were up 2-0 and could easily have gone on to win should not hide the fact that we could easily have been down by the same margin.
Both sides created numerous chances, an indication of what an open game it was. Yet, it was somewhat against the run of play that Ghana scored. Asamoah made a deep run, played a one two with Emmanuel Agyemang Badu and served up a tap in for Badu to score just before the half. Dagger.
The second half starts, Ghana get a corner shortly after recess and that midfielder, erm defender Asamoah again pops up with a header off the bottom of the crossbar. GOAALLLL!!! 2-0 Ghana. Surely, we are going to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Except, Congo continued playing as though nothing had happened and they knew they would score at a moment’s notice. Man of the match Tresor Mputu showed how valuable he was to the Congolese team with a slick run that confounded Jerry Akaminko. He finished with what famed broadcaster Kwabena Yeboah would likely term, aplomb!!! I simply slouched in my chair, uttered ‘damn’ and asked silently, ‘are we really going to blow this lead’?
We did. Akaminko again. Turned into pretzel knots, he fouled Mbokani inside the box. ‘A pe’. ‘Panalty’. ‘Penalty’. Call it what you want. Dieumerci stepped up and accepted the decision from referee Bennett. Fatawu had no chance.
2-2. Now, was one of these teams going to win? No. Both teams created more chances but Dauda and his Congolese counterpart Robert Kidiaba made important saves.
The result left Congo walking tall and Ghanaians shaking their heads in collective frustration. Our next match is against Mali on Thursday so there is enough time to work on our defensive mistakes. We better because Mali is not going to prove any easier than DR Congo.