Appiah gets tactics spot on for a resounding victory

Ghana were slight favourites for the first leg in Kumasi but the manner of their victory will still come as a shock to most of us. Ghana in previous years have used a similar strategy to the one employed in the 6-1 thrashing of Egypt but rarely have they executed it to such devastating effect. Ghana vs Egypt Ghana set out in the same system as they used in their previous match against Zambia, albeit with wholesale changes to the backline. Sulley Muntari shifted inside from his flank position to partner Michael Essien who has just come out of a long exile. Kwadwo Asamoah also had a change of position with a shift to the left flank after previously partnering the injured Mohammed Rabiu in the middle. Very early on in the match the Black Stars set the tactical tone for the rest of the match, pressing Egypt, early balls over the top of their defence and direct running at it. When Ghana were in possession of the ball during most fixtures in their 4-4-2 shape, Asamoah Gyan would often look to drop deep towards the midfield to help link play, but on this occasion he stayed higher up the pitch alongside Waris and the pair both looked to run the channels. At first it looked as though it may be an ineffective tactic to employ since the Egyptians had an extra man in the middle of the park and would crowd out Muntari and Essien, and at times this looked to be the case as a few rushed passes were cut out or went out of play.

But after a while Appiah’s instructions became very apparent. Instead of trying to build up play slowly through the middle, Ghana looked to hit Gyan and Waris early through the channels and take advantage of the immobile Mohamed Nagieb and Wael Gomaa as well as direct running from the midfielders, especially the wide players. The first two goals showed Egypt were simply not comfortable with Ghana’s direct passing and running  as some quick link up play allowed Gyan outside a centre back to score, and Essien’s superb run through the middle of the park forced an own goal from Gomaa.

The 4-4-2 formation has come under a lot of criticism, especially from pundits in the UK as it has been described as “rigid”, “out of date” and, the oddest out of the lot, “straight lines”, but almost all benefits of the 4-4-2 were shown in this match.  Arsene Wenger himself said “the 4-4-2 formation is the formation that is best suited to the dimensions of the pitch, 60 percent of the team, the two central defenders, the two central midfielders and the two strikers naturally cover 60 percent of the pitch. And 40 percent of the team, the wide players, cover 40 percent of the pitch. It is rationally and mathematically the best way to cover the surface of the football pitch”.

On the day Wenger’s theory proved to be true as Ghana excelled in pressing all over the pitch, leaving few gaps and not allowing Egypt’s midfield advantage to count as much as it should have in possession. However, because of the poor defensive line of Ghana’s makeshift defence the Black Stars allowed Salah through to win a penalty for Aboutreika to slot home. But a minute later after Ghana forced a free-kick, a great delivery from Muntari found the head of diminutive Waris into the back of the net and Ghana still had a two goal cushion going into half time. This was a slight relief as Dauda’s shakiness made Egypt look likely to score through set pieces.

Ghana’s intense pressing and rapid transitions carried on into the second half as Ayew’s dribbling brought a set piece and Gyan managed to score indirectly from this after a missed overhead kick from Muntari and poor Egyptian defending. To give credit to Egypt their players still tried to get their foot on the ball to try and probe and find gaps through the Ghanaian defence but the only player who looked to make any threatening runs behind the defence was Salah as they probably missed Gedo’s runs and struggled with Ghana’s harrying to find through balls. Problems against pressing teams seems to have become a very Egyptian problem – their under 20’s struggled against it in this year’s World Cup, and their next generation will have to get used to it if they are to prosper on the world stage.

Thing went from bad to worse for Egypt as they conceded possession after heavy pressing from Gyan and Majeed Waris drew a penalty of which Muntari slotted to the right of the keeper for the fiffth. Appiah made his first change of the match by bringing on Mubarak Wakaso for Gyan to add another body to the midfield and shut the game off with Badu and Atsu coming on for Muntari and Ayew, respectively, soon after and it was Atsu who made the biggest impact of the trio. Picking the ball up on the right hand side, he drove infield and smashed the ball home to complete the rout.

The Black Stars do still have some issues to sort out. Sumaila, Inkoom and Dauda put in below par performances compared to the rest of the side, but after all the criticism Appiah has received ( some admittedly from myself) his teams harrying, fast transitions and compression of the space on the park led to a famous win. Only complete capitulation could cause them to miss out on Brazil now.

This article was written by Theo Sakyi. You can follow him on Twitter.

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