If you had watched Ghana’s buildup to their match against the USA on Monday night, you’d have been forgiven for feeling just a little positive about their chances. There was much singing and a general feeling of cohesion. This looked like a team that had the perfect package. Youthful exuberance, star quality and the will to prove to the world that they’re not getting by on a fluke.
But clearly singing and selfie-taking doth not a team performance make. Their failure against the USA was listless, lame and a little bit embarrassing, abandoning the simplest of footballing virtues. Pass the ball, keep the ball, don’t shoot widely from too far outside the box, because goals so very rarely come from there. It was more a case of shooting for headlines than engineering anything constructive.
Disappointment began early on. It took just 30 seconds and a complete defensive failure from John Boye to see the States grab the early lead. Early goals like that can often lead to the undoing of the team who scores first, but that narrative only applies if the opponents know how to rally. Ghana did not.
Ghana’s coach, Kwesi Appiah, was clear about his side’s constant missing of chances and the impact of the early goal.
“It was a very tough game,” said Appiah. “Playing at this high level, any little mistake can cost you dearly. We created enough chances, but we didn’t take our chances, and the U.S. took their chances.
“Before the game I said the U.S has a very good team, considering they have won their last three or four games. I knew it was not going to be an easy game. I was not surprised the way they played.”
“At this high level any loss of concentration can cost you big time. The first goal really unsettled us for a little bit.”
Ghana were dominant in almost every aspect. They had more possession: 63% compared to 36.5% for the USA. And they had more shots, too – 21 shots compared to the eight from the United States. But just three of Ghana’s shots were on target.
Despite completing 100 more passes than the Americans, they simply could not find any form of structure. For the most part, Ghana not only looked bereft of team thinking, but also of a formation.
Appiah is known for ‘letting his players go and express themselves’, but there was little structure, if any, for the most part of the first half. Things improved slightly in the second, but that’s where the ‘shoot for myself’ attitude took over.
With Kevin Prince Boateng and Michael Essien both starting on the bench, it was Appiah’s plan to bring them on once the States had tired. Already a goal down, both players were in for a tough task when they were eventually brought on. Boateng’s impact was immediate, but he, like the rest of the team, constantly fired goalwards without any real direction.
That it took so long for Appiah to make any sort of tactical adjustment is worrisome. Almost as worrisome as the mental sluggishness which cost them so dearly, but this is nothing new for Ghana. Almost every single loss in the last two years has been because of a failure to concentrate and rally around the purpose of the team.
The coach’s acumen was questioned by Boateng afterwards, with the German-born player saying he was surprised not to start because “you should start with your best eleven”. But just one look at his approach will tell you all there is to know: Ghana did not think about the basics of the game. No matter how dubious Appiah’s tactical acumen at times, he can only do so much in preaching how to take chances.
There were also clear issues in defence, and some critics will put that down to lack of communication. Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey is the man tasked with marshalling the defence but, born in Norway, he does not speak any local Ghanaian dialect and his English is shaky. There was also some basic lack of footballing awareness which led to their undoing.
Another tactical issue for Ghana is Kwadwo Asamoah being used in defence. His creativity is impeccable, but when being bogged down at left back, he does not get to go forward as much to create that spark. For Juventus, he plays a more creative role, but he is limited in how he is being used for Ghana. Against South Korea a week ago, it was Asomoah going forward which created a goal. Against the USA, it was Asomoah who crossed for Andre Ayew to level the scores. It’s an positional error which has proved costly time and time again, yet Appiah still persists with the tried and failed method. Why Appiah persists with this stubborn approach is baffling.
Only four of 46 sides to lose their opening group games since France 1998 have gone on to qualify for the World Cup’s knockout stages. With Portugal and Germany to come, Ghana’s chances are looking as dark as the star on their flag.
Out of all of this, it is Appiah who will suffered the most. He is not a superstar. He is an ambitious man who has been there, done that, but his players have let him down. His tactical approach was lacking, sure, but the players played for their name in lights, not for their coach or the badge on their chest.
Qualification from this group will take a miracle now. DM
Photo: Michael Essien (L) and Asamoah Gyan (R) of Ghana show their dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 group G preliminary round match between Ghana and the USA at the Estadio Arena das Dunas Stadium in Natal, Brazil, 16 June 2014. The USA won 2-1.
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