Boye caps off his worst week in the Black Stars

John Boye caps off his worst week in the Black Stars with an own goal

Portugal beat Ghana Thursday 2-1 with goals from John Boye (OG) in the 31st minute and Cristiano Ronaldo (80th minute) overcoming the second half strike by captain Asamoah Gyan. Majid Waris will rue a chance to give Ghana the lead in the 61st minute with the game finely balanced at 1-1.

Fatau Dauda will regret palming a floated ball meekly into Ronaldo’s path for Portugal’s second goal. It was a ball Dauda should have caught easily with greater command and confidence.

There were highlights, albeit few. Kwadwo Asamoah’s cross for the goal was exquisite. His defending as always was steady. Dede Ayew’s confidence and maturity in this game show a continued growth. At 24 and with 50 caps to his name already, Ayew could continue building a legacy of his own over the next decade of serving the national team. Harrison Afful continued where he left off against Germany and Asamoah Gyan single handedly posed a threat to the Portuguese with his determined running.

Overall though, the players seemed to be going through the motions, unable to summon the requisite energies to overcome the off field drama that took place before the game. They were listless at times and seemed to lack that extra effort they delivered against Germany. They also seemed to lack an effective game plan to expose a weak Portuguese side.

More than the loss of a match, the entire team will be counting their collective losses. A loss of focus on their Portuguese opponents and overall mission brought on in the aftermath of a now widely reported incident between Sulley Muntari and a member of the Ghana Football Association, Moses Parker. They will wake up USD100,000 richer but with a loss of reputation, respect and pride, values whose worth is incalculable.

Rather than adding to their reputations as Africa’s darlings by overcoming their ‘oh so close’ loss to the US in the first match and their brave display against the Germans by beating the ‘Cristianos’ and becoming one of three African representatives in the second round, we played into the ‘just another African country’ condescension.

Instead of bringing joy to the faces of Ghanaians who Lord knows need all the joy they can get and winning more followers faster than you can say TB Joshua, our Black Stars’ indelible mark will be that of mercenaries employed to wear the jerseys of a country and content to shoot at our collective hearts.

And so it is. They come home with no glory, no joy and little pride. Oh, and no gas to fuel their big fancy cars.

In picking up the pieces however, we must look at more than the players’ conduct if we want to seriously fix the problems that beset this campaign and have perhaps threatened to derail others.

Four years ago, France went through a turbulent time. They approached it by not only taking action against some players perceived as ‘troublemakers’, they looked holistically at their preparations and are back strong this year.

We are relative novices at this World Cup business and if it is our ambition to become mainstays and one day soon challenge for the Cup, we have to take a long hard look at ourselves.

Grand gestures won’t work.


Tactical Notes

  1. Kwesi Appiah is clearly very committed to the 4-4-2 that served him so well in qualifying. When Ghana is firing on all cylinders it can be beautiful to watch. The strategy carries risk though that we weren’t able to overcome. We scored four and conceded six goals in Brazil, an average of two a game and a -2 differential. In South Africa, we conceded four and scored five a +1 differential. Even without those statistics, it was clear to see that we were weaker defensively. And all our opponents capitalized. For a former defender those statistics would be disheartening to Appiah. More disturbing though is how inadequate we have been in correcting those mistakes. It’s one thing to have ‘silly mistakes’ in one match but the likelihood that we’ll concede must be assuring to any opposing coach and makes it easier to game plan against us.
  2. Majid Waris is a talented player who Ghana can rely on certainly for the next few years if he continues to develop. The injury in the final warm up match against South Korea was unfortunate as it robbed us of one of our more in-form players. He was one of the young players many tipped to shine at this World Cup. There was a yearning by many to see Waris on the field. Yet, his inclusion in the starting line up for the final group match was questionable. He was essentially playing his first competitive game in over two weeks. He was clearly not match fit and but for a glaring miss did not impact the game like he usually does. However, in a pattern that I fear is emerging and that might indicate an indecisiveness on Appiah’s part, he reacted to what others were saying. We saw this when he changed Adam Kwarasey before the Germany game and for me he reacted to the disappointment at Jordan Ayew’s mistakes in the Germany match by benching him.
  3. Andre Ayew was substituted in the match Thursday’s match and I could not understand it. Ayew has become if not yet the Black Stars best player, the player that provides inspiration at moments when we are low. He is the one with the ‘never say die’ or ‘I will die for my country’ attitude at all times when he’s out there. More practically, he is the only player outside of Gyan to have scored in this World Cup. Why take out a goal scoring threat when you need goals?
  4. I tweeted during the game last night that while Christian Atsu is a very talented player, he won’t become as great as his talent suggests he can be if his decision making doesn’t improve. The nickname ‘African Messi’ is an exaggeration that is unfair to Atsu and an insult to Messi. Leo takes his chances. Messi is not just a dribbler. He influences a game by being a constant threat to make that incisive pass, have a shot that at least tests the keeper or take off on a dribble with the back of the goal not too far away. Atsu is pleasing to the eye but his end product is far too often wayward.
  5. Kwadwo Asamoah is one of those players who excelled at this tournament and can hold his head high. He gave an honest, committed effort. But he is NOT a left back. Period!


Will the Black Stars be led to the slaughter or will they disentangle themselves from US mess?

Will the Black Stars be led to the slaughter against Germany or will they disentangle themselves from US mess?

Ghana take on Germany in the second group match of Group G on Saturday in Fortaleza.
If you were a betting man, you would bet your house on Germany winning this game. If you went with your heart and you believed in miracles, there is a sliver of hope. After all, as a friend of mine said to me recently, ‘a dead goat don’t fear HU!’ to wit, ‘what more does a dead goat have to fear’. If you were a neutral you would expect a cracking game with two teams going at each other.
Germany’s record all time in World Cups is 61 wins, 19 draws and 20 losses. They have won the entire competition on three occasions and by the looks of it would be serious contenders for a fourth. Ghana, relative novices at this competition, are at a more uneven and perhaps underwhelming four wins, two draws and 4 losses. The tale of the tape doesn’t give the full picture though as Ghana possess individually skilled players who on any given day could be World beaters. Coach Kwesi Appiah will be keen to show his mettle in harnessing that talent and pulling off what would undoubtedly be one of the upsets of the tournament. And he says his team will deploy an attacking mentality in this match going all out for the win. After all, what’s there to lose? Ummm, progression into the next round but never mind.

Were the Black Stars to record that win, Appiah would restore the luster his team had coming into the tournament having thumped S. Korea 4-0 and perhaps reestablish the Black Stars as Africa’s lodestar – Cote d’ Ivoire’s loss suddenly putting them on shaky ground.

Will he be able to inspire his charges by identifying German weak spots and punishing them? Or will he go away meekly rueing his naivete against the USA? Will Kevin Prince Boateng come to symbolize the avengers, his role as the scorned exacting revenge on a team he once represented and teammates he once played with? Or will Thomas Mueller continue his searing World Cup form in dispatching the wishful Ghanaians?

Will this signify the end of an era for players such as Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari or will they be offered a reprieve by a German team noted more for ruthlessness than kindness?
All I have are questions.
Like many Ghanaians, I’ll be looking for answers at 19:00 GMT Saturday, hoping the answers result in an all to play for rendez-vous against the Portuguese in our final group game.

Black Stars Dimmed As They Lose Direction

Ghana's Black Stars would benefit from a more certain direction from Kwesi Appiah

Ghana’s Black Stars would benefit from a more certain direction from Kwesi Appiah

I haven’t blogged in a few days because I needed time away from the lover that breaks my heart seemingly every four years. Make that two years if we count our African Cup profligacy.

I did not want the pages to be filled with laments like ‘Oh Black Stars!!!’, “Why, Black Stars?” or some such statement conveying grief. The game against the US was a game that we should have won with less effort than we expended on Monday evening. Sadly, it was lost in a manner that is for me inexcusable. Players work four years to get to the biggest stage. The least they should get in return is to be adequately prepared to face the World’s best.

On this occasion, they weren’t adequately prepared. Talent in the qualifying rounds in Africa will win many a game. When the conditions are largely the same against inferior talent, the Black Stars have excelled. They can beat an Egypt side 6-1, a feat that was unimaginable at the time.

At the World Cup, generally speaking, the difference in talent is not as great from one match to the next. In any case, on any given day, that talent can be nullified either by uninspired play of the superior team or by heroic feats by the underdogs.

Before the US match, I felt the US would have a better set of talent for this competition and would be even better than four years ago. I bought the hype that the US media machine was selling. Our players were more talented and dare I say much better on the day than the Americans. There is a fine line between winning and losing though and it was clear that the Americans were better prepared tactically. How else does one explain taking two of eight chances and emerging victors versus one out of 21 of the Ghanaians. What the US did not have in talent, they made up for in efficiency.

In the friendly against the Dutch, we went down early to a Robin Van Persie goal. That goal was created on the right side of our defence. That day, we had Rashid Sumaila and Jerry Akaminko in defense. Jeffrey Schlupp slipped just before he could react to the ball and RVP coolly fired the ball in.

In similar circumstances, we went down in this match to a Clint Dempsey goal. Once again, same channel. This time it was Daniel Opare seeing his first action of this preparatory period, ‘at fault’. Opare somehow managed to find himself off the bench and into the starting line up despite not playing in any match including the one against the so-called Dream Team in Accra. That means in 270 minutes of friendly action, our starting right back did not see the field. How then was he supposed to link up effectively in a competitive World Cup match with his colleague defenders?

A well oiled football team can be likened to an orchestra. The conductor rehearses often with his symphony countless hours to be well honed for the big stage. You don’t appear in Royal Albert Hall straight from your music lessons. Even the best orchestras cannot simply add and subtract the best violinist or pianist at the conductor’s whim and expect the output to be excellent at all times.

Four years ago, we had an orchestra. We were never sure of the outcome of the matches then, as now, but we were sure that our team would typically play a certain way. Less style, sure but more results oriented. Plain vanilla and less hazelnut machiato. A drab 1-0 was better than a thrilling cardiac inducing 2-1 loss.

This year, we seem to have a freewheeling Jama session, with our cheerleader in chief seemingly unable to decide from one match to the next where to lay the emphasis. Should we have more drums? More of the gong gong? Actually, where there used to be singing, let’s clap instead. With few cues.

A fair measure of predictability has given way to uncertainty.

That ultimately is to the detriment of the players and invariably produces a discordant sound. And yet the only sounds of such a painful loss is silence. Can Kwesi Appiah raise the volume slightly?

Please. For I would prefer to listen to my increased heartbeat than face the silence.




I admit it. I am freaking jealous right now. Of all the facebook posts, twitter updates and of the phone calls announcing departures to Brazil. Four years ago, I was certain I’d be one of the privileged fans to witness the matches in person. I had even convinced myself that I would be in Brazil whether Ghana qualified or not.

Alas, on the eve of the tournament, I’ll likely be watching all 32 matches on television and my pronouncements have turned from a promise into bluster. I would have had to spend the equivalent of 15,000Ghc and probably more to go to the World Cup.

That was a bridge too far in this current economic climate and given the slender pockets I’m currently carrying. At the end of the day, my brain would not allow me to think irrationally.

My solace is that I have been fortunate to visit Brazil before. It was during carnival six years ago. I went to Salvador, Bahia and it was a truly special time. I can only imagine that this kind of party will be similar but much grander. 30 or so days of it. If there is one thing Brazilians know how to do it’s PARTY. I have also been to the last two World Cups and as much as I think this would be even more my kind of party, sometimes it’s not meant to be.

Sigh. Time for a beer to drown my sorrows and groove to the Chromeo song above.

My fervor in supporting the Black Stars will not wane though. I’ll be going through the nervous breakdowns that come with every corner, the elation that comes with goals, the tension that every free kick outside of the box elicits. It’s going to be a World Cup like no other.

Stow your carry on items, strap your seatbelts, remain seated for the following month and let’s hope for as few emergencies of the Suarez kind as possible.



Hope Springs Eternal in Jordan’s Feet

Will Brazil see Jordan Ayew emerge from his elder brother's shadow?

Will Brazil see Jordan Ayew emerge from his elder brother’s shadow? Photo courtesy AP

The Black Stars beat South Korea last night emphatically. 4-0. Jordan Ayew came on earlier than he would have expected, in the third minute after an injury to Majeed Waris and scored a hat trick. He clearly grabbed the headlines.

Jurgen Klinsmann was reported to be in the stands and I’m sure he will have gone home with many insights. Chief among them is that Ghana’s attack can be ruthless if you let your guard down.

He will also be befuddled. I have never thought of Kwesi Appiah as a chess player but perhaps it is time to give him his due. The joke is truly on us. For the first time since the 2013 African Cup of Nations, Kwadwo Asamoah started the match as a left back. Prior to the game I dreaded the thought. As a friend said to me, it’s criminal that his attacking talent has to take a backseat to his makeshift defending. His performance against South Korea was encouraging though and I’ve been brought kicking and screaming to the realization that he is likely going to play and might even inspire our progress to the next round.

With the help of Andre Ayew the left side of the defense was solid. The central defensive pairing of Jonathan Mensah and John Boye also performed well overall. It took a while for them to settle though and the South Koreans nearly took advantage of uncertain and sometimes careless defending in the first 30 minutes of the match. Some last ditch blocks of goal-bound shots by the Koreans frayed Ghanaian nerves.

Jordan Ayew’s deflected shot nestled into the goal however and after 11 minutes we were opportunistically ahead. Despite the initial threat of the Koreans, Ghana had sprung a counter attack to the delight of coach Appiah and we were ahead. It was a goal, which I thought would do well for Ayew’s confidence. Little did I know he had more in him. Whatever he ate before the match, Popeye’s spinach my guess, he better repeat ahead of every one of our games.

Jordan’s play for me was not surprising though. On a loan spell at Sochaux and under the guidance of Herve Renard, Ayew showed the qualities that have dared some to say he could be an even bigger star than his brother. If the first goal had a bit of luck, the second was clinical. After picking the ball from just outside the box, he picked his spot and rifled in a low hard shot into the corner. Accurate and powerful, the Korean keeper floundered. The third goal was for me the pick of the goals and showed what I’ve always seen in Jordan. His movement off defenders’ shoulders is something else. Much more experienced strikers struggle to lose defenders in the box and the most gifted do it by instinct. Jordan’s natural feel for the game came through in that moment.


In the first half, the Stars appeared more comfortable playing the ball backwards. It was as though the midfielders and defenders were programmed to only kick backwards. That invited pressure from the quick Koreans and kept us on the back foot. Against the US, who pressure high up the field, it could be a dangerous tendency.

The first half performance alarmed me defensively. We were a far cry defensively from the team that ended the last World Cup. The cover from the midfield wasn’t there and the right full back position showed weakness. In the 26th minute, there was a particularly humorous moment when Rabiu Mohammed and Ayew collided. It was almost emblematic of the confusion defensively in the half.

Kwadwo Asamoah is a much better forward than defender. He didn’t attack much on the flanks but on the couple of occasions when he did his skill shone through.

This was a good test against World Cup opposition prior to the opening match. As we wait for more information on Majeed Waris’ injury, Appiah can take solace in the notion that we have adequate replacements in every position on the field.


Kevin Prince Boateng's place in the squad has been secured. Now, can he deliver?

Kevin Prince Boateng’s place in the squad has been secured. Now, can he deliver?

Kwesi Appiah named his final 23-man squad for Brazil shortly after the friendly against the Dutch.The three dropped players were David Accam, Jerry Akaminko and Jeffrey Schlupp.

According to the final squad listings from all the 32 teams, Ghana’s team is the youngest in the competition with an average age of 24.9. This would be the perfect time to stifle those giggles and move on to the squad numbering of the team. Andre Dede Ayew will be wearing 10, the number his father made his. Captain Asamoah Gyan will be wearing his usual number 3. When you see the number 6, know that it is Afriyie Acquah. Get familiar as he may be spending a lot of time on the pitch. The rest of the squad numbers are here.

Sadly, Jerry Akaminko’s ankle injury during the game ruled him out of the World Cup and of the privilege of a squad number. Akaminko was sure to be on the plane if he hadn’t sustained the injury. It would have been his first World Cup and it’s always a shame to see a player robbed of the opportunity at the biggest sporting event in the World due to injury.We wish him a speedy recovery as he begins his journey to full fitness.

David Accam quickly got over the World Cup omission and scored for his club a day after being cut. Given his form, he is definitely going to get more opportunities to represent Ghana in the future.

Jeffrey Schlupp’s season is over so holiday it was for the Leicester City left back. He had a chance to prevent the lone Van Persie goal in the friendly but slipped agonizingly at the last second. I for one thought that the left back position is such a problem area that picking him even as a backup was a given. Shows you how little I know about Kwesi Appiah’s thinking.

It can’t be easy dropping players for the premier footballing tournament in the World. Hard work might pay off for Accam and Schlupp though. They are both young and a good season in the top flight of the English league will mean another year of experience against top competition. Schlupp will be knocking on the doors of the Black Stars come the Afcon 2015.

A Defeat of Many Parts

Ghanaian coach has some important decisions to make

Ghanaian coach has some important decisions to make

I have been meaning to write a post on the Black Stars last match, the friendly against the Dutch since Sunday morning. While I dawdled, others beat me to it. Time and again.

The special one has even gone so far as to write off the team’s chances at the World Cup.

Predictions are a risky business in normal times. They are even riskier when talking about a team whose starting XI in the first match against the US we are unsure of.

People conveniently forget that prior to the last Mundial, then coach Milovan Rajevac was called all manner of names for daring to lose a friendly match prior to the competition. He maintained that he knew what he was doing and the team would peak at the right time.

Some of us incurable optimists can only hope that we will peak at the right time in Brazil.

Nevertheless, even optimists have moments of clarity and the evidence of last weekend’s friendly raises some questions. It was an abnormal match. The Dutch clearly started with a strong line up while Ghana’s was a mish mash of potential starters and players on the fringe. Therefore, an assessment of the match comes with many qualifications. A prediction based on it can come off as unserious. Still, one might pose questions.

Two years into his reign, Kwesi Appiah has neither found a reliable pair of hands nor a defensive system that adequately protects our keepers.

Adam Kwarasey could have let in three goals by half time and it wouldn’t have been his fault. Yet, we would likely have blamed him and called for Fatau Dauda or Stephen Adams. By the end of the match, with the score a respectable 1-0 and Kwarasey having made some alert saves, he seemed to be in the lead for the position. Goalkeepers need repetitions to build confidence. Hopefully by the next friendly against South Korea, Appiah would have made a firm decision on his starting goalkeeper and will stick with him.

Another problem area that every keen follower of the team can see is in central defence. In South Africa four years ago, the Black Stars were a solid defensive unit, less likely to concede than not. Rajevac’s philosophy seemed to be he would prefer not to concede than to score. He obviously took the lessons from the friendlies and qualification matches and relied on the 5-4-1 system to shore up his defence. Appiah’s much more open 4-4-2 system may create a few more chances per game and may create more opportunities on average but will an open system suffice at a World Cup where goals always come at a premium?

There are bright spots though and possible solutions to our problems. First, Afriyie Acquah looks like the real deal. He impressed in his short time on the pitch. He is where Michael Essien was at his peak. A player with boundless energy and a dynamism that sees him go from box to box, Acquah covers a lot of ground and helps protect the back four. After a stellar season in Italy, he is clearly primed to take the World by stage. If Appiah will let him.

I have heard many complain about Kwadwo Asamoah’s form for Ghana. I still think he can be one of Ghana’s best players. However, I don’t know that Appiah has defined a role for him that allows him to flourish. He has found himself on the bench, at left back, as a left winger and in the middle of the pitch during Appiah’s reign. At Juventus, he is largely confined to the left forward position constantly tracking back to help in defence. Where does Appiah want him to play?

Looking back now on reports on the friendlies prior to the the last World Cup, it is uncanny how quickly our collective doubts can give way to relief and pure ecstasy. Eight days to the start of the tournament, one can only hope that our reflexive pessimism will be washed away come June 14.