Otto Addo faces 10 questions as his unpredictable Ghana lands in Qatar
The two goals in the space of four minutes in the second half were not against the run of play; they were fully deserved against a strong Nati side that included Premier League stars Granit Xhaka, Manuel Akanji, Denis Zakaria, as well as top Bundesliga goalkeeper Jan Sommer. For a while – the first quarter of an hour, in fact – the West Africans did next to nothing. Switzerland passed the ball, making holes and trying to make sense of things. And that’s where we can start our observations of that Ghana team that won the game.
Fans wait at the DoubleTree to welcome the @GhanaBlackstars in Qatar.
IS ATI-ZIGI THE NO. 1?
Generally unpopular with fans, Lawrence Ati-Zigi has struggled to impress his compatriots since his national team debut in 2018 against Iceland. It’s unclear where this bad keeper reputation comes from, as nothing he does seems good enough. In that friendly, he made no saves and conceded none (because he didn’t have to), made a high claim, four clearances, 16/24 accurate passes and 8 /16 long balls. These numbers might not mean anything to the layman, but SuperSport understands that the technical team are happy with their ability to launch attacks and their comfort with the ball.
The biggest clue to this feeling came from the coach, Otto Addo, post-match: “We knew Zigi was good and he did well today. He plays regularly in Switzerland and gets very, very good comments after every game. We are monitoring him so there was no concern. Expect him to start against Portugal.
SAMED AND ELISHA OFFER A PARTY CONTEST?
That Thomas Partey is a world-class midfielder has never been in doubt. That he didn’t have the Rolls Royce of a Ghanaian defensive midfield partner is also beyond doubt. Against the Swiss, Partey was not featured, as he watched Abdul Salis Samed beginnings and Elisha Owusu earn a second hat in style.
Samed, in particular, has justified the hype around him from sports journalists and seasoned Ligue 1 watchers over the past two months. He had 61 touches, 92% accurate passing, completed four of five long balls, one interception, four tackles and won five ground duels. Far from statistics, he was fluid, just like Owusu by his side. They were so calm that at the end of the game there were, once again, suggestions not to play Partey as a defensive midfielder against Portugal. The problem with that is that when Partey is deployed in an advanced role for his national team, he has rarely shone. The selection headaches have really arrived.
NOBODY KNOWS GHANA’S STRONGEST XI YET?
It is precisely these headaches that have plagued Addo since he took office in February. The starting lineup at Zayed Sports Center was another game the 47-year-old didn’t repeat the same formation in back-to-back games. Featured Thursday’s 4-2-3-1 Jordan Ayew on the left wing, Ghana Premier League star Afriyie Barnieh on the right (it was electric during the day) and Andre Ayew sandwiched between them. Inaki Williams was alone in front. It’s a line-up few outside the squad would have predicted, giving credence to suggestions that this Black Stars squad could be overloaded with talent – and that’s no bad thing.
THE DEEPEST WORLD CUP TEAM TO DATE?
The World Cup squads of 2006, 2010 and 2014 were more or less good, this is the first time they have entered the world showpiece with two decent players available for each position. As has been said here before, individually this Ghana team is stacked; putting them together is the problem. On this occasion, Addo passed the test.
The team that beat Switzerland suggests Ghana may not need their strongest team at the World Cup all the time; the most effective may suffice. Indeed, a close look at this team suggests the possibility of fielding two decent formations with ease. Not bad. All they need is to gel.
The smock – Fugu – is a dress code attributed to the people of Northern Ghana. It is worn on solemn occasions and represents strength, courage, and leadership.#BlackStars | #FIFAWorldCup | #BringBackTheLove pic.twitter.com/Wv8G0xoWRD
— 🇬🇭 Black Stars (@GhanaBlackstars) November 18, 2022
WHY IS GHANA SO UNPREDICTABLE?
A direct consequence of the diversity of talent on a roster is that Ghana can easily name different starters to achieve different goals. It will take time, but against the Swiss something clicked.
Have the Europeans released the pedal? No, it won’t be doing the Black Stars any favors, who were pressing well, had better XG (0.9 – 0.7), more shots (11-7) and shots on target (6-0). That same Black Stars had stinks against Brazil and Nicaragua in September.
Beating Switzerland was important because: they arrive in Qatar undefeated in Euro qualifiers, while Ghana worked hard to get there. Switzerland, with a strong core, have steadily improved over the past decade: reaching the round of 16 in three consecutive tournaments before doing better at Euro 2020 by reaching the last eight a year ago; Ghana have withdrawn from a back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations
(Afcon) group stages for the first time – and begin a rebuild.
The challenge is to find out what worked and replicate it. Which of Ghana’s unpredictable sides will come up against Cristiano and co next Thursday? Which brings us to…
They were there. To bring Kamaldeen Sulemana, Kofi Kyereh and Antoine Semenyo changed the tone of the game. Each made a difference – Kamaldeen’s dynamism, Kyereh’s vision, and Semenyo’s deadpan candor. Did the trio force themselves to reckon with their performance? You’d think so, before considering such good options as Kudus Mohammed (who didn’t even make the bench) and Partey, who didn’t get used.
If the Black Stars want flair, there are options. Vigor? Options are available. Rhythm? Also available. Effective ball users? Available.
RAHMAN CLOSE THE MANDEM
Speaking of efficiency, there are a few players on this team more ridiculed than Abdul Baba Rahman of Reading. The supreme irony is that he was the bright, shining prospect in that position a decade ago, only to suffer a career-threatening injury (in national service, mind you) that left him a rung below that he was meant to be.
“When you’ve had the kind of operations that my body has had for the last three years, it’s no surprise that I’m not the same player,” he told the TV show. Star Connect in October. Luckily for him, successive national team coaches gave him chances to gain confidence, sometimes with mediocre results. But against the Swiss, his running, defensive coverage, attacking momentum and passing were on point.
IÑAKI WARMS UP, BUT SLOWLY
Four times in his second half against Brazil in September, the Bilbao forward had brilliant runs and went unseen. Against Nicaragua, it happened at least three times. And against the Nati, twice in the first half.
But there are indications of a brewing of understanding. Kudus Mohammed admitted in an interview in October that “it’s normal for [that kind of understanding] take time because different players operate at different levels”, before insisting that “the agreement will come sooner than expected, however, because of the quality of the team”.
Fans fear, however, that for a Ghana side that managed just seven shots against Brazil, four against Nicaragua and now 11 against the Swiss, conversion has become more important than ever. Runners must be found when they move, as big chances will be rare against Group H opponents Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay.
GHANA MARKS FROM SETPIECES NOW?
A pleasant surprise it was. The least Ghanaian thing for many years is scoring those goals, but Addo said after the game that with more time to train the team could score more from set pieces. Admittedly, Mohammed Salisu’s first goal revealed the weakness of the Europeans’ defense, but credit goes to the Black Stars.
Another thing: Put Kofi Kyereh on those balls. Last November, earlier this year at the Afcon against Comoros, and now against Switzerland, the Freiburg midfielder delivered sharp balls from set pieces that led to goals. It’s not rocket science.
WILL REAL BLACK STARS STAND UP?
Beating Switzerland marked the Black Stars’ first victory over a FIFA top 15 team since 2006, when they beat the Czech Republic (ranked second at the time) and the United States (fourth) in the Cup of the world.
While such victories can create unreasonable expectations, they can also be the timely boost needed before a major battle. What matters is that the pedigree version of that team is counted in the tournament proper.
And you can watch it all live on the world-class coverage provided by SuperSport.
https://t.co/ds4xMxKiq0—Lisandro Martinez (@EdwardGyasi) November 18, 2022