Prior to Friday night’s game against Gabon, a video of former Black Stars player Anthony Baffoe addressing the team at its final practice went viral. He urged them to have a ‘Do or Do’ attitude to ensure the win against the Panthers of Gabon.
Many Ghanaians expected that fiery speech as well as a more purposeful and daring approach to propel the Stars to victory. Instead, they were left disappointed after an 89th minute equaliser from the Gabonese. The mental lapses that showed up in the first match recurred and proved to be the difference between what would likely have been a 1-0 win.
A quick scan of social media and Ghanaian punditry suggests there is enough blame to go around. Chief among those responsible, however, is Coach Milovan Rajevac. His conservatism and pragmatism that might have served him well in his first stint but is currently impeding the Stars’ potential, is the summary of the critique on Rajevac.
Ghana started promisingly enough with Andre Ayew’s strike, an inspirational moment in the 18th minute of the first half. His sweetly hit shot displaced the Gabonese keeper, Joel-Noel Amonome. Without Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, Gabon posed less of a threat going forward and even though their wingers were active, Ghana were by and large in control of the game after the first half. However, the tactics and formation going into the second half robbed Ghana of its ambition.
Rajevac’s substitutions and game management invited even more pressure after the break and with a central defensive pairing still finding its feet, we were asking for big trouble. After ostensibly soaking pressure for 25 minutes in the second half, bringing on Fatawu Issahaku and Joseph Paintsil for the last twenty minutes to run at the Gabonese defence would surely have put Gabon on the back foot and given them much more to think about. Jordan Ayew was clearly laboring after his numerous runs on the wings as well as his tireless track backs in support of Andy Yiadom at right back.
Instead and for the second game in a row we were left reacting, with Milo throwing in Benjamin Tetteh and Issahaku on in the 90th minute expecting a miracle. The 2010 Black Stars were a well drilled machine. With several experienced players, Milo could count on discipline and a composure in tight matches that this current squad doesn’t seem to possess quite yet. For us to succeed, he’s going to have to adjust more and put his younger players in positions to be more expressive than his natural instincts would lead him.
Beyond the coaching though, it is the players on the pitch who derive results. In two games, two of our better players in Thomas Partey and Kamaldeen Sulemana have not exactly matched their levels at their respective clubs this season. Partey has seemed stuck in second gear unsure how much he should attack and how much he stay back.
Partey is regarded as the team’s star man and best player. He didn’t play well against Morocco and was expected to play better against Gabon. But, he put up another disappointing performance when we all expected him to boss the midfield, dictate play and provide the much needed support for our attackers. We didn’t see much of that bar his assist for Andre Ayew’s goal, as he opted for more lateral passes than incisive forward ones. Kamaldeen was often caught out by the Gabonese defenders unable to beat the first defender he attracted. Perhaps these are growing pains from a young player at his first ‘AFCON’.
With one point from two matches, our focus turns sharply to the final group game. If we learn from our mistakes, avoid crucial defensive lapses, we should beat Comoros Islands tomorrow. The only question is by how many goals. And then we cue the calculators to see if we advance.