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.