When Group G was drawn out of the hat, the immediate reaction was that Germany and Portugal would cake walk the group for obvious reasons. However is there any chance of Ghana posing an apparent upset? Let’s not forget this is the joint most successful African country to content in the World Cup. What exactly are the strengths and weaknesses of this Ghanaian squad?
Half of 2010’s quarter final starting 11 remain in the first team. This experience will surely come to bear especially considering anyone who watched that quarter final game against Uruguay will acknowledge that Ghana were grievously robbed of a semi-final place.
Under African qualifying regulations, the winners of each group go into a play off to determine who goes to the World Cup. After winning their World Cup qualification group, some doubted Ghana would even be on the plane to Brazil after drawing Egypt who went unbeaten en route to winning their own group. Nonetheless they crushed Egypt 6-1 though at home on a torrid pitch in the first leg, making the second leg from Egypt’s perspective a damage limitations exercise.
Ghana come into the tournament in mixed form; they looked unassured against a superior Holland in a 1-0 defeat. Kamikaze defending in this game led to Robin Van Persie sliding in the winner inside five minutes. They then followed it up in their last warm up match with a clinical 4-0 win over South Korea in America, a result which impressed and to an extent slightly surprised some people.
Ghana’s first match is against the USA, which is their weakest opponent, so winning is imperative. Without a win here, emerging from one of the ‘groups of death’ would be seemingly impossible. Ghana will be reassured from the fact they beat the USA 2-1 in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Black Stars also beat them by the same scoreline in Germany in 2006, when they played them in the group stages.
Under the stewardship of (James) Kwesi Appiah this Ghanaian side is not as fluid as when former coach Milovan Rajevac was in charge. The industry and physicality of this current group will either hinder or work perfectly in the heat in Brazil. The players will both out hustle opponents and prove to be a nuisance, or fatigue early if they are not smart in their approach to games.
Ghana’s abundance of versatile midfielders is definitely where the squad’s strength lies. Appiah has actually picked so many men in the middle, the West Africans only have six recognised defenders in their squad. To aid this, an experienced midfielder may be used at the back; Sulley Muntari or the excellent Kwadwo Asamoah may help at left back. If needed Michael Essien may chip in at centre half. This gives the defence better security, and should not take away the core dynamism of whatever the midfield combination that may start. With Emmanuel Agyemang- Badu, Mubarak Wakaso (who can also play further forward) and Afriyie Acquah amongst others, Ghana have a healthy dosage of strong combatance in the middle of the park. They boast energy and enthusiasm, which, if underrated could cause a surprise.
Appiah is likely to start with a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation. Starting from the back, if Adam Kwarasey (21 Caps, but none from World Cup matches), has recovered properly from a thigh injury he will start in goal against the USA. Samuel Inkoom will occupy the right back slot and John Boye should partner Jonathan Mensah at centre back. Assuming Asamoah or Muntari are used at left back, the unused left back will play a holding role in front of the defence with Essien. Ghanaians will hope Mensah reads the line well as Boye, though strong, is known to be a little rash and Ghana can ill afford to put themselves at a disadvantage. Though short of his fitness and lacking games under his belt this season, some Ghanaians will wonder why Isaac Vorsah was not at least included in the squad. The much experienced 31 year old John Mensah has also been left out by Appiah, a decision that can be questioned. Ghana’s squad infact only has one player over 30 in Vice-Captain Essien.
Rubiu Mohammed will be ready to step in if Essien is used at centre back however. There will be a huge reliance on Kevin-Prince Boateng to provide the imagination and creativity at the head of the midfield with Andre Ayew supporting from one of the wider areas. The other flank will probably see either Christian Atsu or Abdul Waris (in a slightly deeper role) supporting lone front man Asamoah Gyan. Gyan boasts a more than respectable international scoring record of 40 goals in 79 caps and Ghana will need to supply him well if they are to advance to the last 16. Ghana’s other forward options do look promising, with the aforementioned Waris and Jordan Ayew, who scored a hat trick in the 4-0 win over Korea.
Now realistically we expect Germany to top the group; they are too cohesive and have too much competition savvy to bet against; this is as well as being the epitome of efficiency. Anyone who tracked Portugal’s qualification, will know that Russia topped their group, which although Russia are coached by Fabio Capello, know this was a shock. Whoever saw the initial play-off that Portugal were involved in after finishing as runners up, saw that Cristiano Ronaldo carried them on to the plane to Brazil by edging out Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden. Ronaldo on form is the best player in the world and it would be naive to say Ghana can stop him. What they can do is make it as uneasy for him as possible, press him whenever the opportunity arises and rough him up a bit, as he has come into the tournament short of peak fitness. The truth though is that, Portugal are far scarier on paper than they are on the pitch.
Ghana’s likely starting xi has the ability to cause problems going forward, but the service into the final third has to be of a high quality. Ghana’s style will not always be pleasing on the eye but their efficiency and application can carry them forward. The defence have to stand strong and play a more disciplined line than they played against the Dutch. Portugal are not to be as feared as much as Germany, I feel. They must beat USA which will not be straightforward, but they have done it before. If we consider that they will lose to Germany, then ‘if’ they still have a chance of qualifying come the last group game with Portugal, I believe they are more than capable of getting a result against the Portuguese, so with a bit of luck, YES Ghana can qualify.