Too Close for Comfort

Goalkeeper Dauda earned his keep

Goalkeeper Dauda earned his keep against Cape Verde

The Black Stars gave a befuddling performance against Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks as they reached the semi finals for the fourth successive time. Despite the 2-0 win, many Ghanaians’ relief is tempered by a reintroduction of doubt about this team. Having appeared to turn the corner with a stellar 3-0 win against Niger, the Stars reverted to their first game’s form against the Sharks.

Defensively, they seemed confused and were not communicating with each other while offensively they lacked ideas. Ultimately, it might have been experience and luck that carried us through.

When the Black Stars are mentally locked in a game it is easy to tell. Their body language and their actions on the pitch speak louder than anything they say off it. Even though the party line was that they respected Cape Verde and what they could on the pitch, for me their attitude on the pitch showed complacency.

This game against the Blue Sharks is further evidence that these Black Stars will go as far as Captain Asamoah Gyan takes them. When he is engaged, lively and into the matches, the Black Stars are a different team. When he is passive, going through the motions and unfocused, the Black Stars will follow that lead.

Against Niger, Gyan was clearly out to prove something. He was hungry. He was determined. He would not take no for an answer. He was harassing the Nigerian defenders throughout his time on the field and he was lethal. It reminded me of his 2010 World Cup performances in South Africa. Fast forward to the match against Cape Verde and beyond winning the penalty his contribution was minimal.

His attitude translates into how any tactics are applied on the pitch. Defensively and offensively, Gyan is the point person. When he is out of position defensively, play breaks down behind him with passing channels opening up for the opposition like the red sea. Cue Cape Verdean players playing like they had a man advantage against Ghana in the second half.

When Gyan is showing for passes and playing one twos with his midfielders, Ghana has more attacking options and inevitably create more chances. Against Cape Verde, the quick interplay was absent leading to fewer chances. As a result, our midfielders like Kwadwo Asamoah, Christian Atsu and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu were non-factors.

Cape Verde were always going to come out and make the game difficult for Ghana by putting men behind the ball. The surprise was how quickly they transitioned into attack. They were menacing at various moments during the first half and on countless occasions in the second. With more assurance and self belief they would have shocked us.

Despite Cape Verdean ability on the day, the Stars did not make the mental adjustments necessary throughout the game. A coach can offer a game plan for different scenarios and tactics but if the players don’t apply themselves there is little a coach can do.

POSITIVES

There were a few positives in this match. Fatau Dauda was spectacular. His game still needs polishing but his shot stopping ability is in no doubt. He might be modest but there has been nothing understated about his contribution to Ghana’s tournament thusfar. He has literally kept us in the tournament. At 2-2 against DR Congo, he had a stellar save to preserve the draw. Against Cape Verde, flying across the goal and saving with his left hand must be the save of the tournament.  Penalty kick taker, Mubarak Wakaso’s contribution has been clear. He is now joint leading goalscorer after scoring the brace for Ghana. He has arguably been Ghana’s most consistent player in the tournament so far and we hope it continues. That

We are now in the higher stakes part of the competition and the players will have to bring a more consistent energy and focus to their play. Otherwise, our hopes of bringing back the cup will stay in La La land. To that end, having an extra day than they had for the quarter finals to prepare for the semi finals should reinvigorate them.

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