Thirty seven (37) years have we waited, three (3) finals have we come close to winning and six (6) consecutive finals since 2008 has Ghana been consistent in the African Cup of Nations. Put that together and it sometimes make for easier understanding the backlash the Stars receive from the football loving Ghanaian populace whenever they fail to twinkle on the pitch especially against minnows like Benin as they did last Tuesday. Tactical bankruptcy from Kwesi Appiah, two yellow card horror shows from John Boye culminating in a “harsh” red card and bizarre substitutions earned the Black Stars a 2-2 draw in their Group F opener with Benin after they rallied from a goal down to lead 2-1 in the first half.
This has raised eyebrows especially going into the next group game against 2017 AFCON winners and group favorites Cameroon who need a win themselves to book their place in the knockout round of the 2019 AFCON. Among the various commentary that has dominated the sporting headlines in traditional, print and social media has been the substandard performances on the night from some of the team’s star names like Wakaso, Atsu and Partey, Coach Appiah’s redundant tactics and our untested defensive set up. From what I also witnessed, I have decided to highlight on five issues that needs addressing before we face Cameroon.
Coach Kwesi Appiah’s tactics and his torch line demeanor
One social media comment I chanced on read, “Coach Kwesi Appiah needs coaching” and I couldn’t disagree. Watch Kwesi Appiah on the torch line and he exudes little confidence if any into his players. Against Benin, his body language was one of naivety and gloom which ultimately translated into the play of the Black Stars. This I think Mr. Appiah should be handling better having already been to five (5) AFCONs. Thrice as an assistant coach and twice as the boss including this year’s tourney. Football is an emotional game and it is time Kwesi Appiah realized that and played along. We cannot continuously watch football with our head coach standing still and offering little moral to the players on the pitch. Well, maybe he has delegated that role to one of his backroom staff. With that said, I’m still yet to figure out our team’s identity under Kwesi Appiah. In his two terms, the gaffer has not exhibited the tactical nous every Ghanaian expects from a Black Stars coach. The best I have seen him do is to set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation and that is it. His game management has always angered rather than excite. The least I say about his substitutions the better. In our group opener, Benin coach Michel Dussuyer outwitted Kwesi Appiah with his tactics from the onset and what did Ghana provide in terms of response? Nothing! We kept ballooning balls to Jordan Ayew when we all know Jordan’s best abilities are with his legs and not his centre forward or ball holding abilities. Our game lacked plan and strategy. This is not the Ghana Black Stars we have grown up watching. The Black Stars that transcends fear into opponents by mere mention of the name. The slick passing team known for our “samba” flair. We are not called the “African Brazil” for no reason. Against Cameroon, things must change and that must start from Coach Kwesi Appiah.
Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”. On the evidence of what we saw on Tuesday, we might as well have to extend our AFCON trophy drought to thirty nine (39) years. It was a disorganized and disjointed defensive display from the Black Stars. Of course they may be forgiven as our defensive setup featured two tournament debutants and it was the first time all four defenders were playing together. Yes, they may take time to gel and the case may even be worse now that we are to introduce a new face into the already troublesome setup with Boye suspended. But we are not here for experiments. Our defence needs some sorting out if we are really to clinch the gold plated trophy that has eluded us for so long. Lumor may have put in a brilliant shift in supporting the attack but he must understand he is first a defender and his primary duty is to defend before anything else, and that stands for every defender called into the senior national team. For Andy Yiadom and Nuhu Adams, we can only encourage them to keep up and continue as they have begun.
Mubarak Wakaso or Kwadwo Asamoah
Mubarak Wakaso and Kwadwo Asamoah on their days can be two of the very best players we have in the Black Stars. Both love to operate in the midfield though Kwadwo’s versatility allows him to play as a left wing back for his club Inter. Both have a cultured left foot and they can spray passes across the field with pinpoint Steven Gerard or Xabi Alonso accuracy. They are so similar it makes it difficult fielding both in the same team especially in Coach Appiah’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. But in Wakaso, you have a workaholic with willing legs to get into crunching tackles without fear. For Kwadwo Asamoah, what he lacks in legs he makes it up with his football intelligence and he has been quoted in an interview that he would love to play in the midfield in the build up to the tournament. With Partey already owning one of the two defensive midfield spots and Coach Kwesi Appiah favoring other options in the attacking midfield, the only role Kwadwo Asamoah may fancy now is that other midfield role alongside Partey and that brings the dilemma. Should we still persist with Wakaso who was lackluster against Benin or bring in Kwadwo Asamoah? It is a question I better leave for the team’s technical handlers but for me, Kwadwo Asamoah I think will do a better job than Mubarak Wakaso.
The only thing of note every Ghanaian remembers about Atsu’s presence on the field last Tuesday was his Kofi Mole-like hairstyle. Other than that, every person has been wondering how he lasted the full 90mins. He offered absolutely nothing to us but to make Kofi Mole popular on Ghanaian social media especially on twitter. I may not have seen the official game statistics but I am sure even as benevolent as they may sometimes be, the 2015 AFCON player of the tournament may have scored zero for every vital game static that was collected. It may sound harsh but this is how I feel whenever I recount Christian Atsu’s performance against Benin because it was that bad and I think we have entertained this version of Christian Atsu for far too long. He plays poorly and yet he finds himself in the team. He needs a reality check. It may have been an off day but I stated earlier, we didn’t come into this tournament for experiments. Coach Kwesi Appiah must demonstrate that same balls with which he sat General Captain Asamoah Gyan on the bench and bench Atsu against Cameroon. That is why we took 20 capable outfield players to Egypt. As a coach who prides himself on talent discovery and giving opportunities to new players, this is the time to prove it.
The hot temperatures in Egypt has made the relevance of substitutions in this year’s AFCON even the more important. Teams would have to look to their various benches as legs wear off in games. Along with that, injuries and red cards may necessitate substitutions. I just hope going forward into tomorrow’s and our subsequent games, our coach’s substitutions will be more inspiring than we have been used to. Great coaches know who to take off, who to bring in and when to do that. We don’t want to see an Afriyie Acquah when the game is begging for an Asamoah Gyan neither should a Samuel Owusu be taken off when a Christian Atsu is still playing over the bar from two or three yards out. We must get our substitutions game right.
Like our President has declared, this year is a year of return and the whole of Ghana expects nothing but the ultimate from Egypt. We may not have had the results we desired against Benin but we live to fight another day which is tomorrow. Ghana versus Cameroon is the great war of Group F. We have no option than to win. A loss will now put unnecessary pressure on team Ghana and our qualification will no longer be in our hands. Ghana is too good for that. Go and win for us dear Black Stars.
Ghana versus Cameroon comes off tomorrow, Saturday, 29th June, 2019 at exactly 5:00 GMT.
Writer: Qwesi Nabila Zakariah (@qwesi_nabila).