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Ghana versus South Korea preview

From Doha, Atsu Tamakloe assesses Otto Addo's methods so far and what needs to change versus South Korea

There are many who have looked at Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Portugal with contentment with the team’s performance. Those who have, have pointed to the defensive organization that made the Black Stars impregnable for 63 minutes. Portugal’s best players were kept at bay, crosses reduced to the barest minimum, while key combinations such as the one Bruno Fernandes later found in the game, were kept at a reasonable distance. But that was just one side of the story. 

Before the penalty incident that led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal, Ghana did not seem to have the plan to sustain possession or to progress play beyond containing Portugal. The Black Stars were ponderous in possession. Except when Kudus came alive.

Even then, Ghana did not seem know what to do with the ball. There was no semblance of a coordinated attack. Not even the first goal.

You see, a well choreographed pattern of play synchronizes a team’s best actors. They move on the same wavelength with players they receive the ball from or the options they release the ball to. In the relevant areas of the pitch, the build up will see players in close proximity; with off the ball runners who are either making decoy runs or acting as passing options or. Irrespective of the philosophy or system, these principles do not change. And any strategy that leaves a team’s best players isolated, often in areas where they have to do too much to have any sort of impact, is lamentable. 

Ghana coach Otto Addo on the bench against Portugal.

This is why it was worrying that for large spells of the game, Ghana’s best creator, Kudus Mohammed was often left in a sea of Iberian Shields. The same was true for Inaki Williams. As much as Kudus and Inaki may love the idea of holidaying on Iberian island such as Ibiza, this was not by choice. Their team’s game plan had left them isolated in Iberian territory. 

This has to change. And now. Otto needs to figure out how to maintain the excellent block at the back, while deploying the wonderful attacking talents in a meaningful manner. 

The Kyereh conundrum.

It is difficult to understand why Daniel Kofi Kyereh does not start for the Black Stars. When he has played, he has provided a good mix of inventiveness and simplicity, underlined by efficiency, not seen by Ghana’s midfielders in a while. 

That kind of inventiveness and control is exactly what Ghana needs against a South Korea. Famed for their high octane football, the Koreans will test Ghana’s press resistance and midfield control. If the Black Stars are to play on the front foot, they need players who can keep the ball under pressure, play in tight spaces and control the temperature of the match.

Beyond that, Kyereh’s presence in midfield would allow Kudus to play closer to goal and a lot more liberty to operate. This would also reduce the exertions Kudus has to make in deeper areas of the pitch.

But that may not be Otto Addo’s approach. As he has shown repeatedly, he prefers defensive organization to attacking fluidity and midfield control. That is not exactly a bad thing, but there is little to give optimism that Otto would be prepared to put Kyereh, Kudus, Partey and Andre Ayew all in one line up. He would most likely keep the handbrake on. 

I’m afraid this may not be the game for that. The Black Stars need a win to stay in reckoning for a place in the knockout stage of the competition. And while pragmatism is an admirable virtue, this tournament has shown us that pluckiness pays. This is the time for Otto Addo to set this team up beyond his tactical insecurities. 

Morocco(against Croatia and Belgium), Japan (against Germany) and Saudi Arabia (against Argentina) have proven at this tournament that being adventurous is not always folly. Not if accompanied by a balanced tactical plan.  

Whatever the strategy is, it needs the teams biggest names to step up and lead from the front.

When, if not now, Mr. Partey?

Thomas Partey Defensive Midfield of Ghana and Arsenal FC in action during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Ghana at Stadium 974 on November 24, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Thomas Partey Defensive Midfield of Ghana and Arsenal FC in action during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Ghana at Stadium 974 on November 24, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

There has been an attempt to project Thomas Partey’s performance beyond its significance. The vehicle for that has been the post match stats; 47 accurate passes and two key passes. That is what Partey-sexuals are holding up as evidence of his brilliance. With all due respect, this is Ghana! And while we may not be sny of Brazil, Spain that are blessed with an endless list of elite midfield talents, we have had our fair share. And when those talents, be it Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Anthony Annan or Stephen Appiah, we have seen what a brilliant midfield performance looks like. What Partey produced against Portugal was nothing close to his best.

He kept things simple on a day when the midfield badly needed some inspiration. It was one of those performances where you could tell Partey was happy to do the bare minimum and no more. What could explain this? The coaches insistence? Or was he just limited by the structure of the team and his job description? 

It is obvious the coaching at Arsenal is at variance with Ghana’s. In fact, coaching at club level is often more detailed, nuanced if you like. Often because national teams have next to no time to practice patterns, at least in terms relative to what the amount of time, clubs spend on the training ground. 

Structural limitations or not, Thomas Partey is capable of giving more than he did and, for all our sakes, he has to find that next level. Hopefully, against South Korea.

Time to be decisive, Otto

One thing is clear, be it structural or personnel, Otto Addo needs to make decisive changes to the team if Ghana are to get anything from this game. It is what previous Ghana coaches have done at the World Cup in their second games. In 2006, Ratomir Djukovic rang the changes to devastating effect. ‘Doya’, as he was affectionately called, introduced Habib Mohammed and Shilla Illiasu for Addoquaye Pappoe and Sammy Kuffour respectively. The result? Ghana had the defensive solidity that formed the foundation for an impressive 2-0 win over Czech Republic. 

In 2014, Kwasi Appiah replaced Daniel Opare with Harrison Afful, and Jordan Ayew with Kevin-Prince Boateng. Afful provided the vital assist to Andre Ayew’s header with a peach of a cross while Boateng provided industry Jordan had failed to in the previous game. 

On both occasions, Ghana had failed to win on opening day of the season. It is true Ghana has never lost a match day two game at the World Cup. But as I have just explained, it is not superstition. There is a science to it and, if Otto Addo gets it right, Ghana should be fine. 

Follow Atsu Tamakloe on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AtsuTamakloe

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