Reflections of a Friendly Eye: Chile v Ghana

Chile and Ghana played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the torrential rain in New Jersey, USA, Richard Mpong and Matias Fernandez – from the penalty spot – on the scoresheet for the respective countries. Chile deployed a fascinating, Football Manager-esque 3-2-3-2 formation, the combative Gary Medel and the metronomic Marcelo ‘South American Xavi’ Diaz forming the double pivot in midfield to protect the back three. Ghana stuck with their usual 4-2-3-1 system rather than the disastrous 4-6-0 experimented in the 3rd/4th place play-off at the recent Cup of Nations. Kwadwo Asamoah began on the left whilst Sulley Muntari played in an attacking-midfield role behind USA-based debutant striker, Dominic Oduro (who was taken off early on with an injury and replaced by Ghana-based debutant goalscorer Richard Mpong), the other Ghana-based debutant striker, Emmanuel Baffour, was shunted out on the right-wing despite not appearing truly comfortable in that position. Palermo’s Afriyie Acquah, another debutant, didn’t do his chances any harm with a steady performance in a second-half cameo.

Red Hot Chile Peppers play into Ghana’s hands

A well-documented criticism of Ghana on this blog has been their inability to assert themselves onto the opposition. As previewed earlier in the week, Chile only know one way to play: to attack. Ghana, meanwhile, are a side which has struggled to progress from their counter-attacking philosophy into a more dominant one since the 2010 World Cup. In this friendly, Chile didn’t deviate from their norm and this played right into Ghana’s hands, giving the West Africans space when they ventured forward on the break. Udinese man Kwadwo Asamoah showed some delightful touches and played with the relaxed manner that we didn’t see at the Cup of Nations – instead, the Asamoah that we’re more accustomed to seeing at club level or in friendly games for Ghana was back in all his glory.

Ghana defence deal well with Chile’s attacks

Chile’s attacking game at international level is one of the most difficult to deal with their low centre of gravity, the usage of the wing-backs as an attacking outlet and the constant interchanging of the wingers. Indeed, in qualification for the 2010 World Cup, Chile scored 32 goals – only Brazil, with 33, scored more. The Black Stars dealt admirably with their forward line, however, overpowering them physically as well as showing their strength as a cohesive defensive unit – reasons that the likes of Matias Fernandez and Humberto Suazo were quiet, Alexis Sanchez was effervescent as ever but, despite his endeavour, he was also nullified well for much of the game.

The muscle-bound, broad-chested Derek Boateng was at the forefront of the Black Stars’ physicality. The Dnipro midfielder put in a Man of the Match performance showing sublime poise in possession of the ball when confronted with the frantic pressing of the Chileans – pressing which often resulted in fouls. Although he displayed signs of fatigue towards the end of the game, he protected the core of Ghana’s defence, the diminutive Chileans bounced off him as he shielded the ball or charged through the centre with regal posture.

John Boye was at the flag bearer for Ghana’s accomplished defensive performance, continuing the good form from the Africa Cup of Nations as he made several crucial interceptions with his right-place-right-time sense of the penalty box when he was on for the first half. With the unreliable fitness of captain John Mensah, the indiscipline of Isaac Vorsah, the inconsistency of Jonathan Mensah (who isn’t receiving much game time at club level), the Rennes man continues to show that he is the man the Black Stars can rely on. Adam Kwarasey also had an assured outing, which included some fantastic saves to when Chile managed to break through the Ghana defence.

Life without Gyan

Despite being presented with a flurry of chances by a Chilean backline which was typically comical, the Ghanaians failed to take those opportunities and ultimately paid for it when Chile equalised. This isn’t to say that they missed Asamoah Gyan, though. After all, even with Gyan in the team Ghana have never had the habit of scoring goals in abundance. Yet, he was the best striker Ghana had and given enough chances he would eventually convert. Baffour and Mpong had satisfactory debuts but this game hasn’t exactly proved if they can fill is boots, for Chile aren’t  a well-drilled side defensively.

Ultimately, then, it turned out to be a near pointless friendly as we didn’t learn anything that we didn’t know before the friendly. With the jury still out on Goran Stefanovic, Ghana couldn’t have played against a worse nation to play from a tactical point of view. Huge question marks still remain whether the Black Stars can develop tactically as a team under the Serb.

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