Sports Features of Tuesday, 10 June 2014
Ghana vs. South Korea: 5 Things We Learned
Ghana recorded a fine 4-0 win against South Korea at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami to round off their World Cup preparations on Monday.
Things haven’t been going too well recently for the Black Stars, with disappointing showings against the Netherlands and Montenegro not convincing many that they could escape from the taxing Group G.
Kwesi Appiah’s men have been drawn alongside Germany, Portugal and the USA in the opening round of the tournament. While few sides would be optimistic about their chances of escaping such a testing first series, the Black Stars’ showing against Korea may have coaxed a few into believing that they are capable of springing a surprise.
Read on to discover five things we learned from Ghana’s battle with the Korea Republic.
Questions Remain in Defence
One of the key concerns heading into the fixture, from a Ghana point of view, concerned the defence. Goalkeepers Fatau Dauda (pictured) and Adam Kwarasey have both had their issues; the former has struggled to get game time in South Africa with Orlando Pirates, while the second has had problems with a thigh injury and became a father only hours before the Black Stars’ friendly.
Ahead of them, centre-back Jerry Akaminko started Ghana’s last four games but was ruled out of the tournament after landing awkwardly in the dying minutes of the friendly defeat to the Netherlands.
In his place, Jonathan Mensah was chosen to partner John Boye at centre-back, and while both men are competent defenders, neither possesses the passing ability, the composure or the touch of Akaminko.
Fortunately, they escaped unscathed from Korea, but the Asians’ hapless finishing makes one wonder if the presence of one or two top strikers would have made a difference.
At right-back, Harrison Afful also struggled, with the opposition finding much joy (and space) when playing the ball in behind him.
The clean sheet was important, as Ghana haven’t enjoyed one in a full international match since June 16 2013, but it hasn’t erased the suspicion that the back line might be found wanting in Group G.
Ghana Boast a Myriad of Offensive Options
The Black Stars started their match against Korea with no fewer than six players who were exclusively, primarily or largely forward-thinking. These six included Asamoah, as mentioned, who starred as a No. 10 at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations but is likely to feature as a full-back in Brazil, as well as Sulley Muntari, Waris, Asamoah Gyan, Boateng and Andre Ayew.
None of the other African sides are really capable of matching this level of positive players in their starting line-up. Nigeria and the Ivory Coast will perhaps play four such players, while for Cameroon, it will likely be as little as three.
Add to these starters the players who came off the bench against Korea, Ayew, as well as Wakaso Mubarak, Albert Adomah, Christian Atsu and Afriyie Acquah, and one can begin to understand the depth of Ghana’s attacking options.
Should they find themselves desperately seeking a change of approach or pace in their World Cup matches, then be under no illusion—they have the personnel to do so.
Waris Might Not Be Missed
With the game barely six minutes old, it looked like Ghana might have become the latest side to fall foul to the dreaded pre-World Cup injury curse. Waris Majeed, the Spartak Moscow forward, hobbled from the pitch assisted by two burly stewards and was carried back to the changing rooms.
The loss came as a blow, not least because the forward is something of a secret weapon (and a deadly one at that) for the Black Stars.
His injuries may not be as bad as first feared, but that became almost immaterial as the match wore on.
His immediate replacement, Jordan Ayew, scored a hat-trick and delivered a performance of such poise and maturity that he has surely played himself into contention for a starting berth against the United States.
If Waris can’t make it to the World Cup, then the younger Ayew brother looks well-placed to ensure he won’t be missed. If he can make it, then Ghana have a trio of lethal forwards who will be the envy of many of the Brazil-bound sides.
Asamoah Drafted to the Peripheries
One of the great fears about Ghana heading into this World Cup is that their naive and, occasionally, meek Coach Appiah might neglect the country’s one outstanding player.
Kwadwo Asamoah stands head and shoulders above his compatriots in terms of his all-round class, his creativity and his ability to influence a contest. However, he is also one of Ghana’s most versatile stars. There has always been a great risk that, under pressure to play the Black Stars’ more experienced and perhaps more high-profile players, Appiah will shunt Asamoah out to the left flank.
Against Korea he started at left-back, as Mohammed Rabiu, Sulley Muntari, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Andre Ayew populated the midfield.
Now, Asamoah is a fantastic left-back and left-wing-back, as he has proved regularly with Juventus, but putting such a key man in this position prevents him from having the influence that he might otherwise have in the centre of the park.
Considering the fact that Michael Essien may well come back into the starting line-up for the opener against the United States, there’s little chance that Asamoah will take his spot at the centre of the action anytime soon.
Here is a player around whom Appiah should build his team...it was little coincidence that on the few occasions that Ghana looked inventive, creative and lively through the middle, it was when Asamoah was straying into the danger zones.
One of the Black Stars’ great fears is being realised.
Ghana Might Just Do It
Despite Monday night’s emphatic victory, the prognosis doesn’t look good for Ghana.
Nigeria, for example—who lost to the United States the other evening and looked, quite frankly, hapless—would, one suspects, still rather be in their shoes, with Bosnia and Iran to face, than the Black Stars.
Regardless of their attacking intent and burgeoning midfield ranks, regardless of how many they can put past the Republic of Korea, Ghana still need to oust two out of Germany, Portugal and the United States to escape the group.
It looks like being an insurmountable challenge and the majority of third- or fourth-seed sides would have already given up the ghost having been pooled among such testing competition.
But not Ghana.
The Black Stars have the talent and the European experience to be quietly confident about their chances of causing an upset or two. They can boast two Champions League winners, as well as players who have enjoyed careers somewhere near the summit of the continental game.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they have the pedigree.
In their two World Cup appearances to date, Ghana have been drawn in tough groups (admittedly not as hard as this one) and emerged unscathed. They have never been eliminated in the first round and possess, in Gyan, a player who has made a habit of dragging his side through seemingly impossible World Cup challenges.
Seven of the squads who made it to the last eight four years ago are still present this time around.
I certainly wouldn’t be brave enough to bet against them creating a little more magic in Brazil.