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.

 

 

REGRETS AND JEALOUSY

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.

Go BLACK STARS!!!

 

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.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

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.

OUR MEN IN BRAZIL

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.