A fourth point from two tricky games with the Mambas has Ghana looking good, but what did the visit to Maputo teach us?
Ghana’s unbeaten record in the quest for qualification to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations remains intact, even after the Black Stars — still top of Group H — dropped points for the first time today, drawing away to a Mozambique team they whipped in Accra on Thursday.
As usual, there were lessons aplenty to be noted and analysed and, below, we present five of the more prominent.
GRANT’S TEAM HAS NO IDENTITY
You know what they say about a team being only as good as its bench or, distinctively, the options it has in the warehouse when some of the regulars get indisposed?
Well, with the Stars left reeling from the loss of key personnel before and during the back-to-back duels with Mozambique, it became almost a struggle to see the pattern the team was attempting to play with the introductions made. The build-up and general play was slow and turgid, falling short of the standards we’ve come to associate with the Stars. Now in pole position to qualify from Group H with six points left to play for (against Rwanda and Mauritius), a spot at Gabon 2017 is almost assured but that would only be papering over the cracks of a team still in dire need of much work. Wake up, Mr. Grant.
HARRISON AFFUL NEEDS MORE COMPETITION
While he had little to do all afternoon at the right side of defence, Afful was time and again guilty of losing possession cheaply in the final third. He always sought to burst forward whenever the opportunity presented itself, only for the eventual output to leave so much to be desired. The swagger which has characterised Harrison Afful over the last few years seems to have disappeared and he cuts a strange figure now. His crosses are not finding the intended targets, the trademark square passes are mostly misplaced, while the ability to make surging runs into the opposition box appears to have deserted him. Don’t give up on him yet, though. The Columbus Crew man might only be in dire need of some competition for the right-back position to get his head firmly screwed back on. A kick in the teeth, I daresay, is non-negotiable at this point.
GOALSCORING IS A PROBLEM
Numbers don’t lie, but they could sometimes be fibbers of sorts. Ghana may have scored thrice in the first leg but that tells only half of the story. You see, the best Black Stars teams of yesteryear have been built on unshakable certitude in the abilities of that one man upfront — read Asamoah Gyan for this generation — supported by a siege mentality of a sedulous supporting trio working so hard to complement his efforts and occasionally coming up with goals of their own in a 4-2-3-1 system. That system is being threatened by the well-documented health woes of our captain which reads thus: two injuries to the thigh, one each to the knee and hamstring, topped by a bout of malaria — all over the past fifteen months. Preferred replacement Jordan Ayew is simply not that kind of player and has always fallen short of the qualities Gyan brings, especially when playmaker extraordinaire Kwadwo Asamoah has also been conspicuously missing.
MIDFIELD LACKS QUALITY GOING FORWARD
No doubt Ghana has got a comparative advantage in the production of defensive midfielders, but that in itself is fast becoming a source of worry. When the Stars got their backs pinned against the wall the few times the Mozambicans came up with some real quality, we lacked that creative force in midfield to use the spill-over balls in any fruitful way. There simply was nobody to spray the balls about and find those defence-splitting through passes in a quick counter-attacking move. Alfred Duncan attempted — albeit rather unsuccessfully — a few times but we never really expected much from a trio which comprised the Sassuolo lad’s inexperienced self and fellow Serie A stars Afriyie Acquah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu. For $50,000 a month, Grant should definitely be doing better at resolving this particular challenge.
BLOOD THE YOUNGSTERS
It was refreshing and heartwarming to see Ebenezer Assifuah getting some quality playing time away in Maputo. What was a bit strange was why Grant left two substitutions unused when it was quite evident a full fifteen minutes to time that the game was headed for a boring stalemate. Those minutes could have done some new faces, like home-based stars Samuel Tetteh and Evans Mensah, a world of good. We have some potentially very difficult 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers to deal with in the coming months and could thus at least afford these youngsters some priceless chances to help build their confidence for those future assignments when circumstances necessitate their inclusion and possible use.