Stars refuse to shine on bright, first day in Yaounde

Ghana starting line up against Morocco

Boufal smiled. Hands in the air as he heaved a sigh of relief while hugging his teammates who had come by to congratulate him. He had just given his team all three points in arguably the toughest game of the group. A goal that came in the 83rd minute. Too late for the Black Stars to salvage anything.

The game although tough lacked many attributes of a top-quality Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) game. It didn’t have the usual belligerence that came with the earlier games at this competition.

There were so many stop-start moments and the flow of the game kept truncating after every two minutes. Yet, it delivered a platform for a display of tactics from the two eastern European coaches. Vahid Halilhodzic started the sprightlier of the two, parading his stars in brilliant fashion.

Boufal playing off Aboukhlal and moving powerfully in the early stages of the game with Imran Louza, Selim Amallah and Azzeddine Ounahi putting in the tackles and making sure that the balls get to the forwards.

Before the game, Ghana’s Serbia coach, Milovan Rajevac said his team were in Cameroon to prove doubters wrong.

For the first time in the last six AFCON tournaments, Ghana have not been mentioned amongst one of the favourites for the trophy – more for how we played in the qualifying rounds than for how young the team is.

Jordan Ayew started as number 9 for Ghana.

Rajevac set up his team in true counterattacking fashion; already donning himself and his team with the underdog tag that had been placed on team by many. As it has been for years, Ghana started slowly without any real threat. A 4-2-3-1 system that looked more defensive than it should actually be.

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Amartey was trusted to partner Djiku in defence, Partey was with Iddrisu in midfield while the exciting Kamaldeen Sulemana and Joseph Painstil were tasked to be the high flyers on the wings with the task to start attacks with their pace. It worked well for the better part of the game but it wasn’t until the 71st minute that all the effort drew a save from Moroccan keeper, Yassine Bounou.

Before then though, Ghana had come close a few times. Jordan bombed his way down the right flank, put a cross into the area trying to find his brother, Andre but Saiss – who showed clear shades of his performances at Wolves – was there to clear.

The Black Stars played gallantly but in the history of football, playing gallantly has never quite determined the end result. At the press conference, his biggest takeaway was that we created chances.

In a game where you could only count two or three chances for Ghana, it makes you wonder. There are many questions though, especially for Milovan Rajevac who led his side out today. It wasn’t until the 86th minute, after conceding before he decided to ring in changes.

He brought on Fatawu Issahaku for Joseph Paintsil, St. Pauli’s Daniel Kofi Kyereh for Sulemana and Benjamin Tetteh for Jordan Ayew. But why did he have to wait that long to make changes? Was he playing out for a draw only for it to backfire? What was the end goal?

All the questions will be hanging over his head as the team’s coach heads back to the hotel. He will have to act fast and now. Ghana has an array of young, talented players. Many of whom can turn games on its head in a flash but they will need to be trusted enough by the coach.

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If there is anything Milovan can count on now, it is that he has history backing him. His last time out at this tournament, he was mauled by Ivory Coast in the first game only to guide his team on a steady course to the final, but he cannot solely make history his guiding principle because also in history, doom and gloom have characterized second comings. Case in point Kevin Keegan, Harry Redknapp and Francesco Guidolin. 

By: Yaw Ofosu Larbi|3Sports|Ghana