Afcon 2021: The Black Stars Continue To Disappoint…

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.

Black Stars captain, Andre Dede Ayew (image via Samuello/422Stock)

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.

Thomas Partey (Photo by Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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.

At Crunch Time, Stars Keep it Simple

Are the Black Stars poised to win a trophy after donkey years?

In the slim chance that you haven’t heard by now, the Black Stars of Ghana qualified for the 2012 Cup of Nations by beating Sudan 2-0. Truth be told the scoreline probably flattered Sudan as the Stars squandered some superb opportunities throughout the game. The score could easily have been 4-0. Alas, our profligacy made it a respectable scoreline…for Sudan!

As the final whistle sounded on this and other games across Africa and the casualty ward admitted some of the more accomplished teams in the last 20 years including Egypt, Cameroun, Nigeria and South Africa, the victory chants among some fans on my twitter feed were transformed from we have qualified to we have won the cup already. To those, I say ‘slow your roll.’ Our neighbor Cote d’Ivoire will have as much of a say as Ghana in determining who comes out tops in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon. Tunisia, Senegal and potentially Algeria have the quality to put a monkey wrench in Ghana’s plans. As I have previously mentioned and as this article considers, there are some flaws in our team that can be exploited on a bad day for the Stars.

Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism of the cautious kind.

Which brings us back to the game. In a critical moment when all was needed was a draw to go through, Goran Stevanovic showed a pragmatic side in how he set up the team. There were overwhelmingly more defensive minded players on the field than attacking. He was going to make it decidedly more difficult for Sudan to score by packing the midfield and defense. The set up harkened back to Milovan Rajevac’s strategy of one man up top with virtually the rest of the team playing behind the ball. It worked perfectly and the early goal by Asamoah Gyan made the approach even more formidable. The Sudanese chased shadows the whole game and rarely tested Adam Kwarasey. Key to the defensive organization were returnee captain John Mensah and dynamic midfielder Derek Boateng.

Attacking wise, the aim was to get the ball and play really balls up front to Asamoah Gyan with Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari and Samuel Inkoom bombing forward in support. For this to work Gyan had to be strong in possession as he was often outnumbered. Boy, was he ever strong. The performance by Gyan was the best I have seen from him since the World Cup. He was as committed and as determined to prove a point as I have ever seen him. He even added a few party tricks along the way as Ghana built a comfortable 2-0 lead heading into half time. It was as though he wanted to silence any doubters and he certainly succeeded. With a goal to his name and tireless running throughout he was definitely a candidate for man of the match.

All in all, it was a very effective and efficient performance from the Stars with the red card to Isaac Vorsah the only blotch. We shall file that in the what in the world was he thinking category and move forward. It was a performance that greatly pleased the coach.