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Feature Article of Saturday, 26 June 2010

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

Can Ghana Conquer the World?

God is on the side of Ghana at the current global soccer fiesta – and I will show the reader why. The African continent had expected great things from the six teams representing it in the 2010 World Cup tourney, but it is obvious that only Ghana has made it to Round Two. (Ivory Coast will play its final group match on Friday, June 25, 2010, but its chances of making it out of the group are very slim, so I am making a bold declaration that Ghana will be the only African team in the Second Round of South Africa 2010.) While there is sadness across the plains of Africa because of the early exits of South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroun and, very likely, Ivory Coast, there is an aura of hope and expectation around a young Ghanaian side that will play against a gritty, confident, buoyant American team on Saturday, June 26, 2010. But God is on Ghana’s side – and Ghana will prevail.

For the record, Ghana becomes the second African nation to make it past the First Round in two consecutive World Cup tournaments, the first being Nigeria in 1994 and 1998. Of course, Ghana intends to go past the Second Round in South Africa, and I believe that Ghana’s fortunes could not be any better. Yes, Ghana’s loss to Germany in the last group match was demoralizing, but a win or a draw against the European soccer giant would have pitched Ghana against England, a team that Ghana would prefer to avoid – for now. It is not that the Americans are not going to be difficult to overcome – it is simply that England is a better soccer-playing nation and our chances against the English would have been slimmer.

We ought to remember that many nations that made it to the quarter-final – or even semi-final – of past World Cup tournaments lost at least one group match, so Ghana’s loss to Germany may just have a silver lining to it. At least, the Ghanaian players are now aware that accolades do not win matches – teamwork, hard work, determination and uninterrupted concentration are the essential ingredients for success on the field of play. Of all the aforementioned ingredients, the Americans lack only the last one, so Ghana has an uphill task on Saturday, June 26, 2010, but it will prevail – ultimately.

In analyzing the American squad, we ought to remember that Tim Howard, the goaltender, is one of the world’s finest, and he has been in top form for many years. The former Manchester United and current Everton goaltender can stand between Ghana and victory on June 26, 2010, so our attacking line ought to be sharp and focused to be able to put a goal or two past Howard. The American defenders may not be household names internationally, but what they lack in fame, they possess in grit and determination. The entire squad plays tirelessly and our attackers are in for the fight of their lives. Team captain Carlos Bocanegra knows how to organize his defense, and with the return from injury of Oguchi Onyewu likely – the latter missed the match against Algeria – Ghanaian aerial threats may be easily neutralized by the six-foot-three Onyewu.

America’s midfielders pose the greatest threat to Ghana’s ability to play free-flowing soccer. The ubiquitous Landon Donovan, the intelligent Clint Dempsey and the indefatigable Michael Bradley will surely put on a show for their countrymen and women, so Ghana’s midfield must be very alert to the threat of the American trio. And in Jozy Altidore, the Americans possess a strong, untiring striker whose greatest weapon is his strength. Altidore is unafraid to take on defenders one-on-one, so John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah (it will be Jonathan Mensah, if Vorsah cannot play) must be at their best to keep Richard Kingson from retrieving the ball from his net!

In the Ghanaian goal is a tried and tested Richard Kingson. Having remained goaltender numero uno for Ghana for many years, Kingson ought to face competition from other Ghanaian goalkeepers for the starting job to stay sharp. Crowning him as number one every time is actually not in the best interest of Ghanaian football, so this writer hopes that the Ghana Football Association will give other Ghanaian goaltenders a chance to prove their worth. While Kingson’s reflexes may have waned a bit with age – he recently turned 32 – his experience usually saves the day for Ghana. Kingson must, however, be alert for 90 minutes to overcome the assiduous and marauding American forwards.

John Mensah has shown that he is still the Rock of Gibraltar (see my previous article titled “The Netherlands-Ghana Match: The Silver Lining Many Missed!”). Calm, confident and a worthy wearer of the captain’s armband, the soft-spoken Mensah was a member of Ghana’s national team at the last World Cup, so he is in familiar territory. Mensah’s partnership with Isaac Vorsah was very effective against Serbia, but a niggling injury may now force Vorsah out of the Ghana-U.S.A. match. While Jonathan Mensah was an able partner to John Mensah against the Germans, Vorsah’s height and strength will be a great advantage to Ghana should he recover in time to play against the U.S.A. Ghana’s fullbacks – John Pantsil and Hans Adu-Sarpei – have given a good account of themselves so far, so I have little to say about them. However, they need to be even sharper against the fast American players who may want to exploit the wings to create goal-scoring chances for the forwards.

Ghana’s midfielders – Anthony Annan, Andre Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Kevin-Prince Boateng – have acquitted themselves creditably, although Ghanaians expect more from this group that links the defense with the offense. I have been very impressed with Kevin-Prince Boateng’s composure, ball distribution and confidence in the heart of Ghana’s midfield, and Andre Ayew has certainly proven his naysayers wrong with his dexterous touches, intelligent passes and amazing work rate. This kid has almost what it takes to become the type of player his father, Abedi Ayew, once was! Kwadwo Asamoah is yet to produce a virtuosic display, but Ghanaians should be patient with the lad. To go past the Round of 16, the Ghanaian midfielders must play much better, if they are to suffocate the dangerous forays of Donovan, Bradley, Dempsey and Edu.

Ghana’s attack has been the weakest link in a rather enterprising team. While Milovan Rajevac seems to be employing a 4-2-3-1 system meant to suffocate the opposing strike force, it leaves our sole forward terribly exposed. While Asamoah Gyan is an energetic player and does a lot of ball-chasing, the aforesaid system stifles his potential: without a fellow forward to soak up some of the pressure from the defenders, Gyan is left to pounce only when Ghana is able to effect a counterattack. Ghana did have a number of easy goal-scoring opportunities against Germany, but the team was simply profligate in front of goal. Repeating the same errors against the U.S.A. may be disastrous, so the team needs to learn to finish off its chances, which are generally rare at this high level of competition.

Now, let me go back to what I mentioned earlier: that God is looking out for the Black Stars in South Africa. Four years ago, our best player, Michael Essien, then in scintillating form, picked up two successive yellow cards – against Czech Republic and the U.S.A. – and so had to sit out the match against Brazil. Without Essien, Ghana struggled in that match, as no one was able to fill the void that he left. The Ghanaian team, although it always produces fine displays, has always had problems with cards in important matches, which leaves the team depleted as a tournament progresses. Not this time, however, as no one has accumulated two yellow cards so far, which means that every member of the 23-man squad is available for selection against the U.S.A. This scenario is quite rare, even for “bigger” teams, so everything seems to be working in Ghana’s favor.

The loss to Germany may be providential, and if Ghana overcomes a gritty U.S. team on June 26, 2010, that loss will fade away very quickly like a bad dream. And then Ghana will meet the winner of the Uruguay-South Korea match, which Ghana can win, with a bit of luck and excellent preparation. So, not to get too far ahead of myself, Ghana could actually make it to the semi-finals, looking at the brackets presently! But Ghana must first defeat the U.S.A. and then hope, as the tournament progresses, to become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final! If God’s hand is at work for Ghana, which I suspect to be the case, then Ghanaians should be prepared to give the now-despised Milovan Rajevac full citizenship when he makes it to the last four! What a feat that will be!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

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