5 Ways the Black Stars could stun Portugal

Black Stars start their World Cup campaign against Portugal on Thursday. 

1. Start Samed

Salis Abdul Samed has been a revelation in the Ligue 1 Uber Eats this year. Ranking 4th for most touches in the midfield third in Ligue 1 and 10th in most passes completed as well as highest passing accuracy this season, the RC Lens metronome oozes calm and composure in the midfield. And as his 4 tackles against Switzerland showed, he is as capable of winning the ball as he is distributing it. He would be the perfect foil for Partey, allowing the Arsenal star to bomb forward when necessary.

2. Play a back three

Salisu and Amartey may have been excellent as a pairing against Switzerland, but more defensive solidity would be needed if we are to come out on top against a much-fancied Portugal side. Both of our probable first-choice goalkeepers being out injured make our task even more daunting. And that’s where Alexander Djiku comes in. The Strasbourg star has been nothing short of stellar since making his debut for the Black Stars, and should be entrusted with a starting role at the heart of the defence with Salisu and Amartey either side of him. It worked against Brazil, and it has a better chance than most of working against Portugal.

3. Mark their midfield playmakers

In Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Leao, Portugal possess one of the greatest forwards of all time and a forward who could be well on his way to emulating that. But they both come alive in the final third, relying on the playmakers behind them to supply them with the decisive passes. That’s where Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and potentially Joao Felix come in. Stop their midfield magicians from creating, and you suffocate the Portuguese attack.

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4. Give our wingbacks the license to attack

Joao Cancelo is arguably the best offensive fullback in the world. And if we successfully mark Portugal’s midfield playmakers out of the game, most of the creative responsibilities in the team would fall to him and Dalot (or Mendes depending on whether Cancelo plays on the left or right) on the other side. He is not as good defensively though, and we should look to exploit that with enterprising runs forward from Tariq and Baba/Gideon. More adventurous play from our wingbacks would see Cancelo and Dalot/Mendes forced back, limiting Portugal’s attacking threat further and increasing our chances of winning.

5. Support our forwards with midfield runners

One of the main criticisms of a 3 back system is it tends to leave the strikers isolated. This wouldn’t be the case if we allow Kudus and Partey to attack the box in support. With Partey’s aerial and long-distance threat and Kudus’s ambidexterity, our probability of getting a goal increases exponentially if we allow our midfielders to get forward.

The lineup I would play against Portugal: Zigi; Amartey, Djiku, Salisu; Tariq, Samed, Partey, Baba; Kudus; Dede, Iñaki.

I am going with a 3412 for the tactical reasons listed above, and starting Baba (close call) and Dede because they are two of only three players in our squad to have featured at a World Cup. I believe experience counts, especially on the opening day. What would you do instead? Let us know in the comments.

By Nene Afadzinu