Patriotically speaking, I am very optimistic about the chances of the Black Stars going into Brazil 2014. Realistically though, my optimism is tinged with caution. And my caution is warranted because Ghana is in the same group with Germany, Portugal and the USA.
How tough is the group?
Germany has been a perennial World Cup favorite and under Joachim Löw, the young team has grown from strength to strength. The coach and his players have matured and would be seeking to improve on their impressive performance in South Africa 2010. The present German team possess world-class players in Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Özil. The team is balanced by young talent in the likes of Bayern Munich’s Mario Götze, Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, Schalke’s Julian Draxler and Chelsea’s André Schürrle. When the German 23-man squad was announced, there was only one true striker, Miroslav Klose, who now plays for Lazio. The 35-year-old Klose is a natural goal poacher who would be hungry for goals in an attempt to break the record of Ronaldo de Lima of Brazil–with his 14 World Cup goals thus far. The Germans would be motivated by their 18-year drought for an international trophy. And if the exploits of the Germans in 2010 are anything to go by, then it becomes obvious why the Germans stand out as the clear favorites to emerge from Group G.
Portugal reached the semi-finals in Euro 2012, losing to eventual winners Spain on penalty shootout. Inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal is a tough side to beat. Ronaldo goes into the tournament as the reigning FIFA Ballon d’Or winner–considered the best world footballer. His impressive form contributed to Real Madrid being crowned in May 2014 as European champions for the 10th time in the club’s history. And who could forget that he is the reason why the ridiculously gifted Zlatan Ibrahimović would be watching the Copa Mundial in the stands as a spectator– that’s if he decides to travel to Brazil. Truth be told, Portugal is a good team but the Cristiano Ronaldo factor, ups their clout a great deal. Pepe is a well-known name by Real Madrid fans and followers of football in general for his world-class defensive abilities.
Then there is the USA national team, now being coached by the former German international, Jürgen Klinsmann. Going into the tournament, Klinsmann has already made headlines by dropping the iconic Landon Donovan from his 23-man squad. Though the axing of Donovan came as a shock to many, the US coach can still count on the services of some World Cup veterans, namely: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) , Tim Howard (Everton) and Michael Bradley (Toronto FC). The Stars and Stripes have become a real force in recent years, as seen by more of their players plying their trades in leagues outside of the US. And with Klinsmann as the head coach, the USA may fancy their chances in this rather tough group.
Brazil 2014 would be Ghana’s third consecutive appearance at the football fiesta. The Black Stars missed out on the semi-finals of South Africa 2010 after the infamous hand ball by Luiz Suárez. A lot has changed for the Black Stars since South Africa 2010. There is a new coach, Kwesi Appiah, who guided the Stars to qualify for Brazil. Some of the notable absentees include: veteran goalkeeper Richard Kingson, former captain and defender John Mensah and midfielder Anthony Annan. Black Stars captain Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain) and Sulley Muntari (AC Milan) would be making their third successive appearances in the World Cup finals while Michael Essien (AC Milan) Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), André Ayew (Marseille) and Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus) would be making their second trips to the soccer showpiece event. The Black Stars strength still lies in the depth of their midfield, as it was during their previous appearances in Germany and South Africa. Young midfield talents like Ebenezer Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Christian Atsu (Vitesse), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan) and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu (Udinese) would be hoping to get the opportunity to prove their worth on the biggest stage. Ghana would be hoping for big performances from Kevin-Prince Boateng, André Ayew, Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah to propel the team to the knockout stages.
The Expert Predictions
The little research I did prior to putting this piece together suggests that Germany and Portugal would emerge from Group G. And of the numerous predictions, the two I take serious are the ones by Arsène Wenger and José Mourinho. The two coaches made their predictions on Eurosport recently. These two individuals are world-class coaches and thus their words hold weight. Mourinho alluded to the toughness of the group by pointing out that no team in the group is likely to emerge pointless at end of the group stage. In a similar vein, Wenger also had this to say about the group: “Germany and Portugal might be the favorites, but be careful of Ghana! They almost reached the semi-finals in South Africa. They have a good team.”
The statement made by the Arsenal coach should give Kwesi Appiah and his team a lot of hope. Another source of hope should be the 2-2 drawn game between Germany and Cameroon played on Sunday, May 31st in Mönchengladbach. The result is noteworthy in part because the Germans fielded an almost full strength team–minus the injured Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer–and also because the Germans conceded 2 goals. The 2 goals conceded by Germany could be an indication that the German machine may not be that airtight defensively, going into this World Cup. Of course, some could argue the absence of Philipp Lahm meant there was no real leader to marshal the German defense. That could be true to an extent but Jérôme Boateng has been exposed numerous times this season playing against quality offensive opposition. What we hope to see then is how André Ayew, Christian Atsu or Kwadwo Asamoah would capitalize on these frailties in defense, especially from the left side of midfield.
My Optimistic Predictions
Ghana wins the first game against the USA on the 16th June, 2014 and draws the remaining games with Germany and Portugal.
With that said, if Ghana is to emerge from this tough group, it would require something special from the coach–in the form of tactics. The players would also have to dig deep and play above their usual levels.
For that purpose, I have noted the following:
- Kwesi Appiah and the Black Stars psychologist must psych up the players to take the first match as a knockout match to ensure victory against the USA. This is particularly important because the USA are now been coached by Jürgen Klinsmann so their tactical discipline would be on a high level. Besides, the Americans are known to be spirited fighters who play until the final whistle is blown.
- Many of the 25 million coaches in Ghana have made this observation that with our current defensive frailties and Michael Essien’s diminishing influence in Ghana’s midfield, it would be prudent to pair him with John Boye in central defense. It’s important to note that Essien began his career as a defender so such a role would not be new to him. In that role, he would be able to bring his experience and leadership to bear. Also, in a deep defensive role, his lack of speed would not be exposed as much.
- Kwadwo Asamoah has to play to his full potential. This is where the Black Stars psychologist should come into the picture. It is obvious Kwadwo’s mediocre performance for the Black Stars does not have anything to do with his ability as a player. In fact, Kwadwo Asamoah is arguably the Stars’ best player going into this tournament. The question is whether Kwadwo himself believes he is the best player in the team. Being an integral part of a Juventus team that has won 2 consecutive Scudetto titles would have settled doubts in many minds. For some reason, Kwadwo Asamoah appears to still have doubts about his abilities. But, for the sake of the team and the nation, I hope Kwadwo Asamoah would come through and perform like he does for Juventus. For me, I would play him in left wing-back position because of his defensive abilities and explosiveness. I do not buy the argument that he can only play that role effectively at Juventus. I have observed that Kwadwo Asamoah enjoys operating from the left side of midfield as compared to him being in a central midfield. In that role, he is invaluable as an assist creator. Playing as a left wing-back behind André Ayew would cause problems for opposing right-backs.
- Sulley Muntari should be played as a superb-substitute. His rich experience and lethal left foot are assets but he has become slow and he could lose steam easily should he be started.
- Abdul Majeed Waris should complement Asamoah Gyan by striking from the right side of midfield.
- Daniel Opare should start as the right full-back. Samuel Inkoom should be thankful that he was part of the 23-man squad. At any rate, Inkoom’s participation fee should enable him buy another all-white Range Rover. Whether or not he would put all-white rims on the new Range Rover is a question I can’t answer.
- Adam Larsen Kwarasey should be the first choice goalkeeper. Fatau Dauda has not done himself any favors by warming the bench at Orlando Pirates.
- Christian Atsu and Mubarak Wakaso are solid second-half options.
In conclusion, Kwesi Appiah must be tactical in his approach to each of the 3 matches in Group G. I wish the Black Stars the best of luck in Brazil 2014.