Ghana vs Qatar – Having cautious optimism

It was just Qatar, it was just a friendly but it was five goals and a very decent performance from a Ghana team that simply did not look up for it against Mali a couple of days ago. The result probably flattered the display over 90 or so minutes but the most important thing for C.K Akonnor and his men before the game with the Qataris would have been to give a response to the dreadful showing against Mali and in that respect the mission was accomplished with a flourish. There were some negatives as well and that should be expected but in the grand scheme of things there were also a couple of things to be very excited about.

The game started on a frantic note, the Qataris were quick out of the blocks and attempted to stun the Black Stars with some quick-fire attacks. It seemed like it would be a successful strategy, in under three minutes striker Almoez Ali had rattled the Ghanaian crossbar and there were was a growing feeling of dread among the Black Stars faithful. It seemed as if the worst aspects of that Mali encounter were simply going to carry on into this game but fortunately, that was not the case. The obvious caveat here is that the Qatari team had only arrived in Turkey two days prior to this fixture but after that early melee, the Black Stars asserted dominance over the game.

Mohammed Iddrisu  and Thomas Partey were calm in their distribution allowing the Black Stars to dictate the tempo of the game and in possession the Ghanaians looked very comfortable, almost too comfortable at times, with the lack of creativity and intensity going forward a very worrying factor at times but that was not punished in this game. The Qataris were sluggish with their press at best but the lack of structure in the offensive phase that Ghana were often relying on individual brilliance to progress the ball upfield and create chances. That is not a very bad idea when Thomas Partey is playing in your midfield but in the first half especially there was very little utilization of Partey’s  passing ability and that must be something that the coaching staff should be looking to rectify in the future. More runners in behind would give C.K Akonnor’s men a different route to goal and take advantage of the team’s best passer of the ball.

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There was a pattern that kept emerging throughout the game however and I believe it was something that was deliberately setup and it made for interesting viewing. On paper the team was set up with just one striker but Andre Ayew played almost as a second striker for much of the game and maybe that was a planned adjustment to facilitate this plan. This resulted in Jordan Ayew and Andre Ayew playing as a two-man strike force. Those two were tasked with dropping deep constantly sometimes individually or other times with both of them moving into midfield. In theory this would lead to quick interchanges with midfielders and widemen trying to get beyond the forwards and cause havoc for the defence of the Qataris in terms of who to mark with the attack presenting itself as a fluid machine predicated on short passes and linkup play. In theory at least. The result was Andre Ayew running in circles on many occasions or Jordan Ayew trying one skill move too many trying to evade three opposition defenders. In that sense, it did work because the Ayew brothers constantly drew the attention of multiple defenders and whenever that happens, space is created in other areas of the field but Ghana was unable to take advantage of these pockets on enough occasions. There is hardly any cause for alarm though, even though the inability of the strikers to release the ball early enough or the unavailability of space meant that this was in general a failed experiment it is still early days. The coaching staff will likely have taken note of these flaws and the prospect of the team getting it right in the future is an exciting one.

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There were some good individual performances as well, some of the usual suspects and some new  faces impressed against Qatar. Benson Anang caught my eye going forward especially in the second half and even though he was not particularly tested in the other direction his willingness to take the ball to the byline and put in a cross was admirable, he also seems to have a decent relationship with Samuel Owusu who was also very good though I may be getting a little ahead of myself on that count but those two are ones to watch. I think that Iddrisu Baba had a decent game as well, a quiet game but in that double pivot in midfield he did all the simple things well and was good at breaking up some of the Qatari counter-attacks and this should only improve his confidence.

Watching Thomas Partey hit his prime and make the big move of his career at the same time is such a great feeling. The optics on his assist for  Ghana’s third goal were not extraordinary but in one move it showed what Thomas Partey is all about. He created a little space for himself with  neat little turn on his heel and then stroked a beautiful ball into the path of the onrushing Samuel Owusu. His passing range and ball retention skills are supreme and C.K Akonnor will be happy to build his midfield around the Arsenal midfielder going forward.

Just like the barrage of criticism that was laid at the feet of the team and the coach after the Mali game was probably unwarranted at most or harsh at the very least it will be premature to get too excited about this performance. However, with all that has happened with Ghana football over the past few years maybe that kind of buzz is needed, and as I have tried to show there are a lot of things to be excited about and besides, when did a little excitement ever kill anybody.

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Source: Wepea Buntugu