By Theo Sakyi
If it somehow wasn’t obvious before their draw to Uganda in Tamale, it should be now: Ghana qualifying for the next World Cup is far from a forgone conclusion. That’s not to say there’s reason to panic. Ghana have the strongest and most experienced team in Group E, but the notion that they will win games easily in the group, as peddled by some prominent figures in the Ghanaian media prior to Friday, will rightly come to an end.
After wins against poor opposition in the past year, such as Mauritius and Comoros, plus a draw against Rwanda, structural problems are starting to show. Russia looking like they could score after every counter attack last month is also cause for concern.
Avram Grant fields a team that is unbalanced and often easy to work out. Afriyie Acquah, a wide midfielder in a diamond at club level, and Mubarak Wakaso, a winger for Panathinaikos, play square of each other in midfield and struggle to move the ball intelligently when paired together. Christian Atsu and Frank Acheampong start as wingers on the right and left side, respectively, while Jordan Ayew, a player who has played as a target forward or winger over the years, plays behind Asamoah Gyan.
As you may gather, this leads to very one-dimensional play based on feeding Gyan early or hoping for brilliance from the wide men. This has been enough to win because of the sheer difference in quality and experience in comparison to the opposition. It was almost enough on Friday, but Ghana dropped two points to the worst team in the Group.
This wasn’t just a bad day at the office, but something we’re seeing repeatedly that could come back to haunt the Black Stars if Avram Grant doesn’t work on the team’s balance.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper has reportedly been scouting Ghana’s players closely at club level, which suggests he’s obviously been watching footage of the Black Stars previous games and will already be putting a game plan together. You get the feeling Grant won’t be reciprocating. If Uganda can hold Ghana to a draw in Tamale, you can definitely see an organised Egypt team boasting Ramadan Sobhi and Mohamed Salah take advantage of the space Ghana leave on the counter, in a manner that Uganda couldn’t when they got chances on the break. The same goes for Congo and Thievy Bifouma.
With only the group-topper going to Russia, it won’t take many blips to stop Ghana from qualifying. Grant may well wing it again at the Africa Cup of Nations, where most teams have no advantage on neutral ground, but he won’t be able to coast as easily against tricky customers home and away.