Ghana is confident they can defeat Portugal and make it to the round of 16 but they must be careful because that same demeanor is what made them lose to the United States and has them in the predicament they’re in.
Group G has lived up to its pre-tournament expectations of being the ‘group of death’ with all four teams still having a chance to advance on Thursday. Following a 2-2 draw against Germany, the Black Stars played more like the team that appeared in 2010 and advanced to the quarterfinals. Some may look at the result and be pleased with attaining a point against a perennial soccer power, but Jordan Ayew ruined two chances, one to extend the lead and another to win the match, that have made him public enemy number one in his homeland.
The first occurred in the 66th minute after the 22-year-old made an extraordinary run from his own half to the opposition’s box and instead of passing to a wide-open Asamoah Gyan at the far post, he shot it directly at German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. And a potential 3-1 lead disappeared. The second error happened as the match was coming to an end and in the 90th minute. The four-time African Cup of Nations champions counterattacked after a German corner kick. The Black Stars foundd themselves in a three versus two situation. The Marseille forward had the ball and had to make the right read to advance the attack and create a potential game winning goal. But he passed it to winger Wakaso Mubarak who was offside.
Immediately after the match was over, and cameras went around the pitch to see reactions from players, Gyan — the captain and Ghana’s all-time leading scorer — was seen complaining to teammates about how open he was in the match’s pivotal moment. Baby Jet, Gyan’s music recording name, addressed the media after the match and said that he and teammates discussed the younger Ayew’s mistake in the locker room and that he apologized to the team. When the three-time Coupe de la Ligue winner spoke though, he didn’t seem as remorseful.
“After making that long solo run, I was so tired when I got to the goal area, I didn’t make any mistake but when they told me I made a mistake I accepted it and apologized to the team in the dressing room,” said Ayew.
This quote seems like it’s from a talented young player who was seeking personal glory over team success and doesn’t understand how that blunder might come back to affect his country if they get knocked out the tournament on Thursday. Even against the U.S., he missed a goal from close range which would have equalized the match at 1-1 before halftime. If forward Abdul Majeed Waris didn’t pick up an injury in the friendly against South Korea a week before the World Cup, Ayew probably wouldn’t be playing but he has to take advantage of the opportunity and redeem himself against Portugal.
Fans and pundits are wondering how Ghana were able to play so well against Germany and poorly against USA. The answer is simple. The Black Stars defeated the Americans in 2006 and 2010 to knock them out the World Cup, and they came into the competition arrogant believing that playing them for a third time would be an automatic victory. They lacked focus and discipline by allowing Clint Dempsey to score a goal within 35 seconds of the game. And the John Brooks goal was able to happen because John Boye, the same defender who let Dempsey cut in to score, forgot to mark his man, and Brooks scored his legendary header with no pressure from the defenders. With their backs against the wall and manager Kwesi Appiah getting his tactics right against Germany by benching right-back Daniel Opare for Harrison Afful and playing in a 4-2-3-1 instead of the 4-3-3, it opened up the attack on the flanks and created more chances for his team to succeed.
Ghana’s best players throughout the tournament have been Juventus utility man Kwadwo Asamoah, who is doing an excellent job playing out of position as a left-back, and Marseille winger/midfielder Andre Ayew. Andre and his brother Jordan have heightened expectations from Ghanaian fans because their father is Abedi Pele — Ghana’s greatest player ever. Throughout the tournament, the older Ayew has been the heart and soul of the team with the way he commands his teammates’ attention when he barks out defensive orders, and reminds them to stay focused after they score goals so they don’t lose focus again like they did against the U.S. The 24-year-old has scored a goal in each match so far and has done well to remain active in the attack while not forgetting his defensive responsibilities. Midfielders Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien haven’t been able to contribute at high levels due to injury issues, and that has hurt the depth of the squad.
Going into the match against Portugal, midfielder Sulley Muntari is out due to a yellow card suspension while Boateng and Boye are question marks due to injuries. A Selecção will have Pepe back from his suspension and they will be playing for a chance, albeit a small one, to advance to the knockout stage as well. The Black Stars have their confidence back as some players have already gone to the media and predicted a victory, but they must remember to stay humble and not take any opponent for granted. In the World Cup, there are no easy opponents and Ghana must stay aware of the situation they put themselves in to have the best opportunity to advance.