Christian Atsu was in dazzling form against the Dream Team
The Black Stars gave fans at the Accra Sports Stadium the gift of hope on Friday night in a match billed as a farewell game.And what a love fest it turned out to be.
The opposition, billed the ‘Dream Team’, was appropriately weak. The ‘dreamers’ were clearly hurriedly assembled to make the numbers on the pitch even and it showed. On account of the first few minutes they needed to at least outnumber the Black Stars players by a factor of two to have stood a chance. The disparity in class was evident from the opening whistle.
Christian Atsu’s feet were barely warm after a rather long pre-match ceremony when he beat his marker and fired off his first of three first half goals. It was a quick movement followed by a stunningly precise left footed shot from a difficult angle. Atsu’s twinkling feet dazed the static defence of the Dream Team and after 11 minutes the nightmarish evening was only getting worse. Jordan Ayew and Atsu added two more goals with Atsu completing his hat trick mid way through the first half. The Stars went into half time 5 goals up with Albert Adomah adding a fifth before recess.
The second half was pedestrian, the result of numerous changes. Those who came in must figure they are more likely than not to be picked in the final squad though. Self preservation therefore was paramount. That didn’t stop Sulley Muntari belting one of his trademark free kicks into the bottom right corner before the game ended. The Dream Team had managed to pull a goal back before that goal but by then the outcome had long become inevitable.
Coach Kwesi Appiah’s downplayed the match’s importance suggesting after the match that he wasn’t making any assessments on the basis of this match. For a man who continuously took notes throughout the match, that would be surprising.
He would have been pleased to see the sharpness of his forwards. It will be the defence that may give him pause. Fatau Dauda came on in the second half. He had to rush out of his goal twice, occasions which against better opposition may have resulted in goals. Given that this was clearly inferior opposition, those are the moments Appiah will be concerned with.
All in all, this was a match we won’t remember next week. We’re feeling good now but it remains to be seen how far form in an exhibition match can travel.
Christian Atsu 23rd minute strike put Ghana in the driver’s seat
Heading into this game the Black Stars had adopted the line that this would be the toughest group game. It might well have been had the Nigerians’ goal stood. As it turned out, that disallowed goal melted away any ambition they had. They were no menace to the Black Stars ambitions of advancing.
Ghana picked a good time to play its best in the tournament. Goals from a revived Asamoah Gyan and Christian Atsu saw the Stars take a 2-0 half time lead. John Boye made it an emphatic win with a scrambled in goal after Gyan’s header was spilled by the Nigerian keeper.
Atsu was officially the man of the match but for me Gyan was the man of the hour. Ahead of the Niger game, there was mounting criticism of his play with some suggesting he should be benched for Emmanuel Clottey. Maligned in one breath, he is deeply appreciated in Kwesi Appiah’s breath. Just as well Appiah remains the coach. Gyan scored with a decisive perhaps angry finish, he assisted on the second and caused the third. His work rate for the 75 minutes he was on the pitch was good. He was aggressive, demonstrative and seemed really into the game. It is my theory that Gyan sometimes needs the prodding that the criticism brings to find his best form. He always manages to silence Ghanaians when his back is against the wall and when criticism is at its highest.
While pressure brings out the best in some, the Afcon stage brought out the fright in youngster Atsu. He is slowly adjusting to the bright lights though like an iris in a dark room. When he is on his game, he puts so much pressure on a defense. On his goal, he waited until the last moment before passing the ball to Gyan on the left flank. That delay pulled three defenders to Gyan. Atsu’s sudden dash into the box left the defenders for dead. His finish was calm and clinical. That one play summed up why there is so much hope for him. If he can harness the skills, speed and tenacity he showed in this game and produce it every game, Ghana will have discovered that kind of midfield threat we haven’t seen since Abedi Pele. Abedi and now Messi (a player Atsu is being likened to) however play defense and that is a part of his game he will have to develop to reach a World Class level.
Still, he has given coach Appiah a welcome headache as to what to do if Mubarak Wakaso is eligible for the quarter final against Cape Verde. Until then, Ghana is riding high off its most impressive performance to date.