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Opinions Mon, 28 Jun 2010

Ghana can go all the way

To be honest, Saturday night was a heady night for most Ghanaians after the Black

Stars defeated the United States to qualify for the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA

World Cup and the pandemonium that ensued after the game meant that driving through

the streets of Accra was next to impossible as jubilant fans partied the night away.

It was indeed a memorable night and what it means is that Ghana now has the best

record of any African team to take part in the World cup, with a second round finish

four years ago and a quarterfinal berth now. For obvious reasons, I will assess the

Ghana – USA game first and then later in this article, ponder ways of dispatching

the Uruguayans on Friday.

Once again, I doff my hat to Ghana’s medical and technical team for keeping Richard

Kingston fit. The goalkeeper is sure one of the candidates for the Lev Yashin award

after another excellent game against the USA. I know I have said this before, but I

freely admit that I was wrong in calling for him to be dropped because I had

concerns over his fitness and lack of playing time, but clearly, he is being well

looked after and long may that continue. He was magnificent in goal and pulled off

wonderful saves to keep Ghana in the match when the USA turned on the heat. It is

imperative that the medical team continues to do its good work so that Kingston can

play every game. The same applies to John Mensah, who has been a source of

inspiration to the back four every time he plays. To be fair, there were a few shaky

moments for the team captain, but he organized Ghana’s defence and put in a pretty

decent shift. Jonathan Mensah had a brilliant game at centre

back and was once of the reasons why Ghana held so firm after the USA equalized. He

may have conceded a penalty, but even though he got a yellow card ruling him out of

the next game, he did not let his head drop and continued to play well.

I thought John Paintsil had his best game in this competition, tackling, covering

well and he clearly benefitted from having Samuel Inkoom in front of him which meant

that from time to time, both players could switch positions and as a result, Ghana’s

right side of midfield, which had looked weak in previous games had suddenly become

an outlet of attack. Hans Adu Sarpei will admit to himself that he has had better

games than this one. He wasn’t that bad, but the USA often played the ball behind

him and attacked him constantly. He was eventually replaced by Lee Addy who

solidified the left back position with a composed display.

Milovan Rajevac requires that his flank attackers track back to help the defence

when required and whilst Andre Ayew has done that to great effect down the left,

Samuel Inkoom came into the team and provided that down the right and ultimately,

the decision to start him on the right side of midfield gave balance to the Black

Stars setup. He delivered cross after cross that unsettled the USA defence and

generally provided much needed cover for John Paintsil. Anthony Annan went about his

job so subtly you might think that he had a quiet game, but he had very effective

and it was on the basis of his work that Ghana could attack at will, particularly in

the first half. Kevin Prince Boateng showed yet another side to him; the ability to

become a goal threat coming from deep. He is attack minded, but has so far done very

well in a dual role of holding and distributing the ball and after Kwadwo Asamoah

won the ball off Ricardo Clark, he showed great intelligence

by using Asamoah Gyan’s run as a decoy and going on to score a great goal. He

worked very hard until a knock meant that he had to be taken off but I can safely

say that Germany’s loss has been Ghana’s gain.

Andre Ayew had another great game and he never seems to tire; tracking back, moving

forward to send crosses and generally putting his team-mates through time and again.

He was very unfortunate to have been yellow-carded, which will rule him out of the

Uruguay game but like Jonathan Mensah, did not let his head drop and kept fighting

through to the very end. Kwadwo Asamoah returned to his best in this game and was a

reliable outlet for many attacks. His close control has brilliant to say the least

and indeed he had a hand in the two goals Ghana scored on the night. After a

difficult start to the World Cup, the Udinese midfielder was in his element and that

is a major boost to the team ahead of the Uruguay test on Friday. Asamoah Gyan was

his usual tireless best and he remains a very important component of Ghana’s team

because he showed that he had the mental fortitude to keep plugging away and for him

to score the way he did in extra time clearly shows

that he is taking his place as one of the World’s most dangerous front men and the

frightening thing is that he will improve because he is relatively young.

I thought that even though Kevin Prince Boateng’s substitution was enforced, the

introduction of Stephen Appiah clearly stabilized the team after the immense

pressure it took from the USA and clearly he got the team to relax and play to its

strength and that in no small way led to Gyan’s winner. Sulley Muntari came on for

Samuel Inkoom and together with Appiah, played out time to ensure that Ghana won the

game, especially in the second half of extra time.

Generally, Ghana’s victory showed that team work will get you everywhere. The Black

Stars displayed a team ethos that was admirable with each player fighting for each

other; a trait that I dare say was missing within the camps of the other African

teams. Indeed, it was a lack of team unity that cost the likes of Abedi Ayew Pele,

Anthony Yeboah and Tony Baffoe the opportunity to play in the World Cup because even

though that particular group had better players that the current squad, there was

little or no team unity and it is pleasing to see that the Stephen Appiah-led squad

works so hard for each other. Also the presence of some members of the 2009 World

Youth Cup winning team in the squad has instilled belief in the entire squad.

Players like Ayew, Inkoom and Jonathan Mensah amongst others won everything at youth

level last year and that winning mentality can only buoy the team on.

It is a fact that many Ghanaians would have preferred the Black Stars to have faced

the South Koreans instead of the Uruguayans. It is again a fact that many Ghanaians

are worried, and rightly so, about the suspensions to Andre Ayew and Jonathan

Mensah, but I will now boldly declare that there is light at the end of the tunnel

and so there is still the possibility of eliminating the Uruguayans. Let me start

with the personnel available. Hopefully Isaac Vorsah will be fit enough to take his

place alongside John Mensah for Friday’s showdown, but even if that does not happen,

Lee Addy can step into the breach. I know many of you might be pointing to his

nervous display against Australia, but I believe that with the wise old head of John

Mensah beside him, he will deliver a composed performance. He did so during the

African Nations Cup and so he should deliver when called upon.

This writer understands that Kevin Prince Boateng’s knock is not serious enough to

rule him out of the next game and this is where I believe the following changes can

be made without tweaking the formation. I think Derek Boateng should be brought back

into the centre of midfield to partner Annan, so that Kevin can attack down the

left, a role he is accustomed to from his days with Portsmouth. That still leaves

Kwadwo Asamoah in a free role behind Gyan and the beauty of it is that Kevin can

also play as a support striker and so he can easily switch positions with Kwadwo

Asamoah during the game to confuse the Uruguayans. Another option is to revert to a

4-4-2 with Asamoah dropping deep to partner Annan in midfield, Inkoom on the right

and Kevin on the left, and Prince Tagoe brought in to partner Asamoah Gyan upfront.

From the game against South Korea, it is clear that Uruguay’s defence struggles

against pace and either of the above mentioned options

could be used to combat them. I know you are surprised I have not mentioned Sulley

Muntari as an option to start in Ayew’s absence, but I will explain why. This World

Cup has shown that if a team doesn’t have the pace in attack, it more often than

not falls by the wayside. Muntari is clearly a gifted player with bags of

experience, but he has lost more than a yard of pace and he often fails to track

back and recover balls when possession is lost. I still think he will be of better

use to the Black Stars coming off the bench because he does pack a powerful shot

with his left foot and should provide a different option with perhaps 20 or more

minutes to go. Together with Appiah, both players are Milo’s aces in the hole and

that should ultimately lift the team.

My second point will be our mental psyche. The performance against the USA clearly

showed that with the right mindset, the Black Stars do not need to worry about

whichever opposition that comes their way. I think it is time for us to, in the

words of reggae legend Bob Marley, ‘emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because

none but ourselves can free our minds.’ If the players begin to think that they have

gone far enough, then the Black Stars could lose on Friday. However, if the players

can get it into their minds that they are as good as the other seven teams that have

qualified for the quarterfinals, then there is no limit to how far the team can go.

This mentality will involve seeing the likes of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and maybe

much later, the likes of Robinho and Kaka as just players and not to go all starry

eyed because they are playing on the same pitch with such players. If that happens,

history could be made, because we all have to be

in a position to stop saying that, ‘We played well but……….’. the players have to

have that self belief and I know that when that happens, Ghana can go all the way.

Someone jokingly made a statement that God is a Ghanaian and as much as some people

may laugh at us, I can’t help feeling that there is an element of God’s guidance on

this team’s progress. The Black Stars lost to Germany but qualified into the second

round and got a relatively easier route because had Ghana won the group, the Black

Stars would have faced England and if successful, gone on to play Argentina in the

quarterfinals. Also there were three incidents in the Australia-Serbia game. A

perfect goal for the Serbians was ruled offside by the officials, a clear penalty

claim after Tim Cahill handled the ball was turned away, and Marko Pantelic blasted

over the bar with only the keeper to beat. Had any one of these opportunities

resulted in a goal, Ghana would be out by now. Sometimes, we tend to rely on our own

strength, but prayer and reliance on God (and for the Moslems Allah) tends to help a

lot and even if we argue with all the logic of

Immanuel Kant, God’s intervention is very, very important and it could prove

crucial in Ghana going all the way.

For now let us believe and I know, without a shadow of doubt that Ghana can beat

Uruguay on Friday and perhaps go all the way.

Columnist: Opoku, Christopher