Sports Features of Tuesday, 10 September 2013
Source: By Christopher Opoku
To be perfectly honest, this is probably the strongest squad assembled by Black Stars head coach Kwasi Appiah ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Zambia.
Michael Essien, Kevin Prince Boateng and Andre Ayew had returned to the Black Stars and that meant Appiah had lots of options in midfield at least.
Essien in particular needs a lot of commendation for being part of the team despite losing his father a week before hand.
I can confidently say that out of the 26 players called, there were a minimum of 18 players who could have easily made the lineup.
I was fortunate enough to be in Kumasi two days before the game and so it was possible for me to monitor the buildup to the game via the Black Stars training.
Of course, Adam Kwarasey was injured but still remained in camp, whilst there were concerns over Asamoah Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng.
Eventually, Gyan trained with the team on Thursday whilst Boateng, after going through the warm up, stayed on the bench.
It was the following morning when I heard that Boateng had been ruled out, so I spoke to members of Ghana’s medical team, only to find out that apparently, Boateng doesn’t have a good medical history at all.
Unknown to many, the playmaker had had six surgeries on one knee alone and so he has required physiotherapy before every match he has played from his days at Portsmouth to now.
According to the information I got, he felt pain in that knee and after consultations with his physiotherapist, the medical team decided to rule him out of playing, which to me was a sensible decision.
I am reliably informed that but for the situation, he would have played just off Gyan in the starting eleven.
As it happened, Kwasi Appiah could make an instant decision, with Abdul Majeed Waris stepping onto the plate, with Gyan playing off him. Essien, not too surprisingly, was left on the bench.
As we all know, Abdul Majeed Waris scored with a predatory strike in the first half and Kwadwo Asamoah scored a beauty, before Nathan Sinkala pulled one back to set up a grandstand finish.
From here, what you are about to read is my take on the team as of now and what we can do to improve ahead of the final qualifying round for Brazil 2014.
For starters, on the basis of Friday’s game, Kwasi Appiah has to make a decision on who becomes Ghana’s first choice goalkeeper.
This is because Fatau Dauda is yet to get a game for Orlando Pirates and in my opinion, it showed during the game.
He was a bundle of nerves and for me, he lacked match sharpness. If in a month’s time he has not been able to get some game time for the South African team, then a major decision has to be taken.
I am reliably informed that Razak Braimah was being considered by the technical bench to start against Zambia because he excelled in training, but because of the magnitude of the game, Dauda was given the nod to start.
Adam Kwarasey is the captain of Norwegian side Stromsgodset and after he recovers from injury, he would be back playing week in week out for his club.
That makes him a clear contender for the position.
Another remote possibility of the return of former number 1 Richard Kingston, who is back playing competitive football in Cyprus after almost 18 months.
In his case, if he plays week in week out, a case could also be made for his inclusion in the squad, unless the technical decides that he is past his sell by date.
For me, Harrison Afful should be playing at right back. He consistently excels in this position for Esperance and that is his best position anyway.
It is a tribute to his tactical awareness as a player that he also does very well at left back and he was indeed the brightest spot in Ghana’s back four against Zambia.
Daniel Opare did not impress in the right back role and as a result it left the defence under pressure. Indeed, Andre Ayew had to track back several times to cover for him.
So that means that Ghana needs someone else at left back and frankly, Richard Kissi Boateng does not convince me that he is the man for the role by dint of his performances.
I believe we have someone for the role already and for me, Baba Abdul Rahman is the man. The Greuther Furth full back is genuinely two footed, strong in the tackle, good in overlapping and because of his height, he can easily cover across the back four when Ghana is under attack.
I was surprised to see him omitted from the squad in the first place and for me, he is our best bet for the left back position. So he needs to be given the opportunity. If he plays at left back and Afful plays on the right, that will give Ghana’s defence greater balance.
In central defence, it was clear that whilst Jonathan Mensah and John Boye are two fine players, both men have not yet struck an understanding at the back.
So that also needs a bit of time. Of course, Vorsah looked impressive until his injury and his return could also help matters, but it is not certain whether he would recover in time for the final qualifying round.
So Ghana’s central defence is still a work in progress at the moment.
I know Rabiu Mohammed would have felt a bit disappointed to have been substituted in the second half but from where I was sitting, he was overworked in protecting the back four because of the limitations I have pointed out earlier.
Because of that, the Zambians overran Ghana’s midfield in the second half and so Essien’s introduction helped to combat that.
In addition, because of that same challenge, Kwadwo Asamoah also had to help out in protecting the back four and so he could only dictate play in patches.
It is therefore no coincidence that after Essien’s introduction, Asamoah was able to burst through and score for Ghana.
Andre Ayew showed a lot of tenacity and determination and I am sure Joseph Musonda hated playing against him. The Marseille midfielder worked extremely hard over the 90 minutes and his display would make it difficult to leave him out of the team next time around.
Mubarak Wakaso on the other hand kept cutting in and he also did not track back very well, leaving Afful exposed time and again. That probably explains why he was taken off for Christian Atsu.
Asamoah Gyan gave Stoppila Sunzu a lot of work to do but in doing so, he created space for Abdul Majeed Waris, who looked in confident form.
Indeed Waris showed that he has the instincts to be in the right place at the right time and his goal was reminiscent of a hero from another era, Peter Lamptey the ‘goal thief’.
He is a useful weapon for Kwasi Appiah to have and what he needs to do now is to win more playing time with Spartak Moscow.
They say form is temporary but class is permanent and Essien clearly epitomised that when he came on.
He literally took charge in central midfield and reminded everyone of his reputation as one of the world’s best box-to-box midfielders in his hey dey.
He showed that he is not finished yet and for me, his return to the Black Stars is a positive development.
As I said, there is a lot of competition for places in the team and with the return of Sulley Muntari to the fold for the final qualifying round, coupled with the return to fitness of Kevin Prince Boateng, the squad should be deeper and so can cope with whatever challenges thrown at it.
Yes, the Black Stars have qualified for the last hurdle, but some work still needs to be done.