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Soccer News of Friday, 22 January 2010

Source: Opoku, Christopher

Angola Cannot Stop Us

So after all the talk, anxious moments, arguments for and against the use of relatively inexperienced players, Ghana are through to play in the quarterfinals of the African Nations Cup against Angola on Sunday. It might seem a difficult match because the Angolans are hosting the tournament and as such, they will have the crowd behind them at the beautiful 11th November Stadium in Luanda. Further more, the Black Antelopes have not lost a game in the tournament so far, even though like Ghana, they have only won once and look a strong unit and in Manuel Jose, one of the best coaches at the tournament.

In spite of all this, I firmly believe that Ghana can go past Angola and make the semifinals. A lot has happened since the competition began and injury after injury sometimes makes you wonder why the Black Stars are still in the competition. First it was Anthony Annan (hamstring) then Hans Adu Sarpei (groin), Michael Essien (knee after recovering from hamstring) and Eric Addo (malaria). This was after injury ruled the likes of John Mensah, Stephen Appiah, John Paintsil and Laryea Kingston out of the nations Cup itself. Initially, one would have been tempted to believe that Ghana were just going to make up the numbers, but instead, there is a steely resolve by the players present to prove that there can be life after the aforementioned key players. After watching the Black Stars lose 3-1 to the Ivory Coast, I couldn’t help thinking that the only thing bad about that game was the result itself, because Ghana did not play badly. Secondly a lot of lessons would have been picked by the players and coaching staff from that game regarding what top coaches would describe as little details, such as successfully preventing counter attacks and avoiding the concession of free-kicks in vital areas to the opposition.

In my view, the malarial attack suffered by Eric Addo proved to be a blessing in disguise because Isaac Vorsah had to do a lot of covering for him against the Elephants, but Lee Addy’s entry into the starting eleven solidified Ghana’s central defence against Burkina Faso and if Eric Addo is to return to the team, then he has to take up another role because it will probably be foolhardy for Rajevac to break the Vorsah-Addy partnership. Again, both Vorsah and Addy started against Angola in the friendly last November and gave good accounts of themselves and in the Burkina Faso game in particular, Addy clearly showed no signs of nerves and looked as if he had been playing for the Black Stars for years. Also the return to full fitness of Hans Adu Sarpei proved timely as the Bayer Leverkusen defender put in a composed performance at left back. Samuel Inkoom obviously took lessons from the Ivory Coast defeat because he also looked solid, intercepting passes and making good tackles and indeed, it was his cross that resulted in Andre Ayew’s first Ghana goal.

A role can still be found for Eric Addo if Rajevac wants to use him and I think he should be used where he will be more effective; in defensive midfield. It was a role that he excelled in for Ghana during the 2006 World Cup and I dare say Agyemang Badu should be looking over his shoulder now because despite a good showing so far, the ex-Asante Kotoko midfielder has tended to overdo things a bit, with some mistimed tackles earning him a yellow card against the Stallions. Nevertheless, his industry and enthusiasm cannot be faulted and he is clearly one of the positives of Ghana’s campaign so far.

Rajevac will have a lot of thinking to do ahead of Sunday’s game against Angola and right now, he would probably be faced with his biggest dilemma; to play with two strikers or to revert to two holding midfielders giving Kwadwo Asamoah more room to express himself behind a lone striker. This is because, in spite of the fact that the Udinese midfielder had a good game against Burkina Faso, perhaps Ghana could have done with his creativity further forward, but he put in a disciplined shift. With the very possible return of Anthony Annan for the crucial encounter, I kind of get the funny feeling that the Serbian might use Annan and Agyemang Badu/Eric Addo to once again build a solid foundation for Asamoah to wreak havoc.

Andre Ayew may not possess the silky skills of his legendary father, but the commitment and fighting spirit he exhibits on the field of play is commendable, to say the least and he clearly shone against Burkina Faso. Interestingly enough, he also starred down the left for Ghana in the November friendly against Angola and scored a goal that was ruled out by the referee for offside. His return to the left wing should be a major plus for the Black Stars and he should do enough to keep Angolan full back Mabina occupied and restrict him from providing dangerous crosses.

To be honest, I thought Haminu Dramani offered a lot of penetration down the right for Ghana against the Stallions, but he often took the wrong option and was very wasteful with goal chances and possession. I was a bit turned off by his reaction to the missed opportunities and clearly he needs to get serious! No one goes into competition to just play around and why Milo kept him on for that long remains a mystery. I just hope that, should Milo decide to start him against Angola, he will not only have been properly conditioned for the match, but will release the ball first time after beating his man. Otherwise, the likes of Opoku Agyemang and Rahim Ayew are options that can be used for that position.

Should Rajevac decide to go with one striker on top, I would strongly advocate Matthew Amoah for the lone striker role. The NAC Breda striker was desperately unlucky against the Ivory Coast, but has the reputation of a deadly finisher and with Kwadwo Asamoah just behind him, he could very well wreak havoc on the Angolans. Should Rajevac decide to go for two strikers on top, I will then advocate a first competitive start for Dominic Adiyiah. The AC Milan forward has the ability to run down the channels to receive passes and apart from scoring goals, he can be quite a nuisance to the opposition and clearly Amoah can benefit from his work. I do believe that Asamoah Gyan is yet to reach full fitness and along with Ransford Osei should be our options on the bench.

The return to form of stand-in skipper Richard Kingston is also a major bonus for the Black Stars and after the hammering he took from Ghanaian soccer fans after an unusually bad shift against the Ivory Coast, he will know better that anybody the importance of taking Ghana as far as possible in the competition, which should ultimately outweigh any sentimental feelings over squad selection. Besides, Ghana has not won the diadem in 28 years.

I do believe that Rajevac has more options and in spite of what many might believe, he is a good coach and would be able to orchestrate Angola’s downfall on Sunday. He just has to be more prompt with his substitutions where necessary and he would be fine.

Before the competition I stated emphatically that Ghana would win it. My confidence is not shaken after the group stages and I think that dream, which looks impossible to most, foe me remains achievable and so I will once again end by declaring that Ghana will win the 27th African Nations Cup, if and only if all the players focus fully on the prize and put all recent happenings behind them..