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.