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.



Stars Take On Dutch Oranje


Essien captains Stars tonight

Essien captains Stars tonight

The starting line up for tonight’s game is out. Michael Essien will lead the Black Stars out to face the Dutch who finalised their 23-man squad ahead of the game.This match is an important test for the Black Stars ahead of final selections. Ghana previously played a farewell match against a vastly inferior opposition and dominated.

This match will be a more accurate measure of our players’ strengths and weaknesses. The Orantje test will tell us a few things about the form of the players as well as hint at any variations in tactics, formations, preferences for certain personnel etc. Among some of the questions I’ll be looking for clues on is what does Kwesi Appiah have up his sleeves tactically. By now, everyone knows Appiah’s favored formation is the 4-4-2 but as we saw in the last World Cup, there are moments in a match that call for variations. Friendly matches like these are a chance to put what has been learned in practice to the test. Will we see any of these variations? What is Appiah’s preferred central defensive pairing? Who are the fringe players who may fill out the final roster? Also, who does he want as his full backs?

Jeffrey Schlupp will fill in at left back in what is his final opportunity to make Appiah look good. A very good performance and the Leicester City man will not only be selected in Kwesi Appiah’s final 23-man squad but he’ll likely be starting against the US.

In a similar situation is Stromgosdet goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. He is a regular for his team and there is no reason why he wouldn’t be making a serious push to start Ghana’s first World Cup match. While Appiah is certain to take three goalkeepers to Brazil, Fatau Dauda’s lack of regular playing time means his sharpness may not be at its optimum opening the door for one of his colleagues to snatch the starting job.

A strong performance by Samuel Inkoom and he might get Appiah to rethink any notions of him as a bench/fringe player. Christian Atsu and Jordan Ayew seemed to click moving forward in the match against the Dream Team. Will they be able to dazzle the Dutch defense in similar ways? Ayew’s loan spell at Sochaux renewed his confidence. He was full of running up front and was clearly match fit.

Rabiu Mohammed has had to fend off rumors of injury. Being named in the starting line up should allay any fears. Yet, his long recovery and the severity of his injury means that he is only now rounding into form. The presence of Afriyie Acquah and the return of some veterans to the squad has meant that it is no longer a given that once Rabiu isn’t injured he starts.

Michael Essien’s quality in the past has not been in doubt. He has transitioned from a player who has made up for his loss of speed and power by using his vast experience to out think his opponents. Still, this is a player who has shown the ability to play full 90 minute matches at the highest levels sparingly. Yet, his versatility and having him as an option to shut a game down when your team is up 1-0 is invaluable. Today is a chance perhaps to remind us of his assets.

Win or lose, this match should have many lessons for us.

I’m excited.



Dream Team See Stars

Ghana's Christian Atsu scores the second goal against Niger

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.



Fans Say Farewell to Stars

This gallery contains 16 photos.

  The Black Stars play a select local side at the Accra Sports Stadium today. The match has been billed as a ‘we are saying goodbye to the fans before we start our European camp and vice versa’ match. Judging by the numbers of fans at yesterday afternoon’s practice session, the organizers have read the […]

Appiah Selects Ghana’s Best for Brazil

Afriyie Acquah hopes 'come rain or shine', his current form sees him in Brazil

Afriyie Acquah hopes ‘come rain or shine’, his current form sees him in Brazil

The number ’30’ was oft-quoted yesterday ahead of the announcement of the provisional Black Stars squad for Brazil. With thirty days to the World Cup many media reports suggested Kwesi Appiah was going to announce a thirty-man squad.

Appiah named twenty-six with three more cuts expected after two weeks of training camp. Some outlets had handicapped players like Anthony Annan, John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah as some of the players that would make the team. They didn’t. There was a clamor for local players in some media. Appiah obliged by including Stephen Adams, a goalkeeper but no more. Jeffrey Schlupp and David Accam did not feature in Ghana’s qualifying campaign but got called.

Appiah picked a squad after months of observing his players often at close range, traveling through Europe where almost all are based. The names suggest that it has been a deliberate and honest process. There was no wishful thinking when it came to injured players or players on the fringes. He has attempted to mix young and in form players with experienced ones who might not be playing as regularly as when they were in their prime but whose presence at key points could be invaluable.

Four years ago, Milovan Rajevac promoted en bloc the core members of the World Cup winning U-20 squad to play at the African Cup of Nations. Because of a combination of injuries, players not on form or unwilling to play and indiscipline, he didn’t take much of a gamble in promoting players who months earlier had accomplished a remarkable feat while showing a competitive spirit and maturity. With little pressure and fewer expectations than usual, they reached the African Cup of Nations final. Going into the World Cup that year, Rajevac ostensibly had his squad filled out by the time he announced it. There weren’t going to be many shocks.

This squad has been formed out of different circumstances. There has been turnover since Appiah took over at key positions. Our entire defensive line (goalkeepers included) has been in flux with the central defensive position particularly worrisome. Add the defensive midfield position and that firm spine, a key element of our past successes is absent.

Our goalkeepers all have deep flaws. Ghana’s number one Fatau Dauda is struggling for games in South Africa. It is less than ideal to have your goalkeeper stuck on a bench, unable to get ‘live reps’ from games to keep him sharp. Adam Kwarasey could be our number one by that measure alone. Yet, when he has been given the responsibility, his self belief deserts him. Stephen Adams played in the CHAN and excelled. Brazil is no CHAN. If there ever was the need to clone a human being, this surely is it.

At right back, Appiah named Daniel Opare and Samuel Inkoom. At left back, he has listed Harrison Afful and Schlupp. Schlupp is the latest candidate to solve our left back problem and might be an inspired choice. Four years ago, Hans Adu Sarpei played as a left back and while not flashy filled the role admirably. Appiah will be hoping Schlupp’s conversion from striker will pay similar dividends to Sarpei. We better hope the Schlupp experiment works¬† if for nothing but to squelch the suicidal notion of Kwadwo Asamoah as a left back.

It will be interesting to see if all four full backs remain in the final squad. Given Afful’s versatility and ability to play on either side and Michael Essien’s ability to deputise in an emergency situation either at right back or central defence, I’d be a bit surprised if Daniel Opare and Samuel Inkoom both make it.

Central midfield is a hard one to call. Anthony Annan was a fixture for so long that when he lost his place and Michael Essien’s injuries piled up, there was instability. Emmanuel Agyemang Badu should have stepped up and owned that place but clearly he hasn’t been able to. Rabiu Mohammed was the heir but a terrible injury last year set him back. In comes Afriyie Acquah whose rise at Italian club Parma has been written about extensively. You don’t play 26 games in a league that treasures defensive discipline and instincts if you’re not good. For a former Italian national team coach no less. Albert Adomah is a player who has always flown under the radar. He is not flashy and does not look for the limelight. He just looks happy to be around. Often, squads for tournaments need players like that who are content even if they are asked to be water carriers.

Little is known about David Accam but if fellow Right to Dream graduant, Majid Waris’ performances are anything to go by then Accam has the right education. Curiously, he has been listed as a left midfielder, a position Mubarak Wakaso and Andre Ayew are not going to relinquish anytime soon. Sulley Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah’s experience at that position means there is ample cover even in an emergency. Accam will likely be competing with players like Jordan Ayew and Albert Adomah for those final spots on the plane to Brazil.

All in all, the squad is balanced and few¬† can complain about the selections. Appiah is clearly aware of his side’s deficiencies and has selected players he hopes will fill certain voids. A few weeks in camp and in friendly matches and they will all reveal how right his selections are.