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Sports Features of Saturday, 12 June 2010

Source: Sammy Bartels

Ghana V Serbia: Bartels examines where the match could be won or

Ghana V Serbia Sammy Bartels examines where the match could be won or lost for either team
Key Battles
DEFENCE
Zigic v Vorsah
This should be a battle to behold. At 2.02 metres or 6.75 feet tall Nikola Zigic is the tallest player at South Africa 2010. While the former Valencia man may not be the most prolific striker around he certainly has his way of disorganizing opposing defenses with his imposing bulk, taking out up to two defenders at a time. This creates space for his strike partners to utilize. He is the target of crosses swang in by Jovanovic and Krasic, but with and some skills at his feet he would be a handful for the Ghana defence. Vorsah at 6.5 feet is the Black Stars best bet of neutralizing Zigic. The Hoffenheim player has improved tremendously in both his skill and confidence as a stopper. Having sharpened his tackles with his feet for a man of his size he would be the Black Stars most reliable weapon at the rear especially with doubts over Mensah’s fitness.
Mensah v Pantelic
It’s been a season to forget for Mensah and his fitness is still a cause for concern for Ghana. His outing against Holland only exposed his lack of mobility and sharpness while he had very little to do against Latvia. But on his day John Mensah remains one of the best defenders in Africa. Marko Pantellic is not gifted with the pace the Dutch forwards tormented Mensah with however the experienced Ajax Amsterdam player combines a high work rate with predatory instincts. Described as “an intelligent frontrunner capable of bringing his team mates into play and finishing coolly” Mensah would have to be at peak fitness to neutralize the 31 year old.
Paintsil v Jovanovic/Tosic
Paintsil was poor against the Dutch; perhaps vestiges of his long injury lay off this season. There would be very little margin of error however when he comes up against Jovanovc (Antic would go for his experience over Tosic). The Belgian Player of the year in 2007 combines quick creative player with good delivery and goal scoring. His 5 goals in 8 games and several assists in qualifiers for Serbia is glaring testimony of his pervading threat to Ghana from the left. Paintsil has experience on his side in this his second world cup and some eye catching form in England. He would have to disrupt the supply line from Jovanovic and prevent him from even a whiff at the Ghanaian goal area. Thus Paintsil may have to be more cautious in joining the attack in order not to be exposed on the break. Tosic may be introduced in the second half to terrorise the Ghanaian with his pace-Paintsil muat be up for a full day’s work!
Addy v Krasic
Lee Addy may be preferred to Hans Sarpei despite only playing once on the left against a Latvia side that hardly tested the Black Stars defence. The inexperienced youngster gets the nod given Sarpei’s lack of pace vis-à-vis the naked threat of Milos Krasic on the right. Krasic comes of a brilliant run up to the Champions league quarterfinal with CSK Moscow where he was second top scorer at the group stages. He set up three goals as Serbia romped to a 5-0 finish against Rumania to clinch South Africa 2010 qualification. Gifted with flight, skill and an accurate right foot, the blonde winger would be one of Serbia’s main threats. With a mere 10 caps Lee Addy is a novice at the biggest stage and probably a risk at left back. But he’s shown cool headedness before and would have to close Krasic down with urgency as Zanetti did with Applombe in the Champions league to snuff out the abundance of chances he creates. Addy would however have to guard against Krasic’s trickery in order to avoid unnecessary bookings or freekicks.
Kingson v Stoijkovic
This is a domestic contest between two Wigan Goalkeepers. Stoijkovic came from sporting Lisbon and pushed Kingson out of Wigann but none was able to displace Chris Kirkland. Serbia have not had much to complain about Stoijkovic. Kingson has on the other hand given Ghanaians nervous shocks. Question is which Kingson would turn up between the sticks on Sunday? It could make or unmake the Black Stars.
MIDFIELD
Annan v Stankovic
This is the biggest battle that Ghana’s “Pablo” has faced since breaking into the national team in 2007 and one that could decide who wins this game. With 88 caps, 12 years of international experience and numerous club titles with Lazio and inter Milan, Stankovic is the X factor in the Serbian midfield. When he gets going the 31 year old can undo any team with his intelligent passing, aggressive surges and long range shooting. His strikes from the distance and freekicks are no fluke as he’s repeated the dose several times in his illustrious playing spell in Italy. Anna would have to skillfully (with very few fouls) prevent “the Dragon” Stankovic from playing by giving him little space to distribute or shoot. Annan has endeared himself to Ghanaian fans with his no retreat cover he provides for the backline of the Black Stars. Although Essien’s presence would eased pressure on the diminutive Rosenberg player, if there’s anybody up for this duel it has to be Annan. Annan would have to make his quicker reaction and gait count against the ageing stankovic. Annan would however require support from likely partner Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Milijas v Kevin-Prince Boateng
Another Ghanaian experiment would be Boateng’s role alongside Annan in an expected 4-2-3-1 formation by Milovan Rajevac. The Portsmouth man is used to playing in a more advance role behind the lead forwards but after impressing in his Ghana debut against Latvia, he’s jumped ahead of Derek Boateng as Milo’s preferred Choice to step into Michael Essien’s big shoes. He showed appreciable telepathy with Anthony Annan. In Nenas Milijas Boateng faces the creative play maker in the Serbian engine room. Together with captain Dejan Stankovic the tall left footer who plays for Wolverhampton wondrous have struck something in the mode of the Essien-Appiah partnership of Germany 2006. Milijas also possesses strike from distance but cannot be described as world class like his decorated partner. Boateng’s grit (not the one on Ballack in the FA final) must surface against this dangerous left footer, added to his great technique and passing with an expected link up with Kwadjo Asamoah in attack, the former German U-21 player should come up tops here.
Ivanovic v Dede
One of the most improved defenders in the world game,Branislav Ivanovic was one of Chelsea’s key fixtures in their run to the league and FA cup double in 2009/2010 season. FIFA.COM describes him as “an indispensable member of Serbia’s squad”. This is no over statement considering his ability to play effectively as both center back and right back. It is in the latter role that Radomir Antic is likely to deploy him against Ghana. Dede Ayew has shown enough fight, flight and ability to start on the left for Ghana (ahead of Muntari). The youngster’s maturation process has been phenomenal since his baptism of fire at the CAN 2008. The world under 20 championship announced his coming of age while his role in Ghana’s upset run to the CAN final at Angola 2010 cemented his abilities. He sometimes hangs onto the ball for too long or unleashes wasteful final balls. Dede Ayew is however relentless in going forward, can successfully take on opponents with his deft left foot and has an excellent recovery. Ivanovic wins on experience but Dede’s all action style would ensure the Serbian man of steel’s rigidness may be exposed and perhaps more importantly the Chelsea man would be restricted from bombing forward on the overlap. Dede must show variety in taking on Ivanovic since any predictability would leave him completely outclassed. He must also be given the freedom to switch wings occasionally if he gets too stuck.
Vidic v Gyan
A world class battle awaits us. Vidic would go into Sunday’s game with little training time after recovering from a virus. No doubt one of the best centerbacks if not the best in the world, the man united man is key to keeping out the Black Stars from getting a go. His physical Presence is combined with good ability with his feet and excellent aerial ability. Asamoah faces an uphill task in the aerial battle but the baby jet has sown a keen poacher’s instinct in his lightening quick reactions to opportunities (Ghana- Czech at Germany 2006, Ghana-Nigeria at Angola 2010). The inform striker’s knack to wear down attackers with his body protection of the ball and getting inevitably be fouled may create problems for Vidic whose frustrations with strikers of the sort produced successive red cards against Liverpool courtesy Fernando Torres! This hardly erodes much from a man of the class of Vidic who tips the balance in this duel. That notwithstanding, Vidic, from his “fantastic four” partnership in the Serbia qualification to Germany 2006 to his combination with Ferdinand at Man Utd, thrives on good support which may be lacking in the current Serbian set up. This may be a weakness Ghana can exploit by deploying a supporting forward so Asamoah could play decoy with Vidic and open up the Serbian defence.
Other Duels
Lukovic v Tagoe
Tagoe looks set to replicate role in the qualifiers against Mali and Sudan at the right side of midfield. The Hoffenheim striker is good in the air but his disciplined approach and ability to send in the crosses satisfies Milo more than the flashy Quincy Owusu Abeyie. It may not be his natural position but this system allows “the prince of goals” to join Gyan upfront to cause damage as he did with his flick on than caused Ghana’s solitary goal against Holland. His ability to provide cover for Paintsil would be the main grey area whether he comes up against Aleksandr Lukovic or Aleksandar Kolarov. Abeyie provides a much needed plan B for the Black Stars as a sub with his piercing runs at defenses. Kwadjo Asamoah v Serbian Defence This revelation of a player will mount the biggest stage of his young career when he takes his place in Ghana’s attacking midfield position (the former preserve of Stephen “the Tornado” Appiah). Strong, Skillful, able to split defenses and with feet packed with dynamite for long range shots Kwadjo Asamoah would hold Ghana’s aces at this world cup and especially in the opening game against Serbia. The irrepressible Kwadjo brings the much needed energy that Appiah has since lost and should excel as he alternates battles with Serbian new Boy Neven Subotic and midfielders Nenas Milijas and Dejan Stankovic.
Antic v Rajevac
This is obviously a mismatch on Paper. No doubt Milo would be carrying a lot of admiration for his illustrious colleague but maybe also relishing the prospect of getting one on the experienced Antic to announce his own arrival. Antic’s stints with Barcelona and Real Madrid are a Notorious fact, perhaps more stunning is his double with Athletico Madrid in 1996 at the expense of the two giants. He has certainly transformed the Serbian team with automatic qualification to South Africa 2010. On the other hand Milo’s biggest achievement remains his advance to the second round of the UEFA cup with FC Borat. But at the international level he comes off a surprising run to the final of the African Cup with a weakened Ghana team and a smooth qualifying campaign. Against Antic he must not tweak and more importantly must offer Ghana positive options with his substitutions and tactical shuffles-something he has not always impressed with.
POSTSCRIPT
Ghana’s winning mentality would be key on Sunday. Stunned by stage Fright against Italy four years ago, the approach this time around must be one of no mere also runs.
I wonder how many goals Ghana can get from set plays! The play of the Black Stars has often unduly been limited to goals from open play. This is not enough. There would be free kicks and of course corner kicks. Are we simply going to do trial and errors? On the other hand we should be on the lookout (more like wary of) for the Serbian set plays, especially freekicks and corners (where Vidic, Ivanovic and Zigic are deadly)
Verdict: Ghana would start as underdogs. A scoring draw looks likely.