Ghana are an exciting a team to watch. But at the same time, they are a frustrating side too. On Monday, they had 18 attempts on goal. Only three were on target. None went in.
It had been a similar story in the clash against Colombia. Despite their overwhelming control over the proceedings, Ghana won only by a goal to nil. Against USA, the scoreline was the same. But Ghana finished on the losing side.
The decisive moment arrived in the 75th minute when substitute Ayo Akinola was spotted in space by Chris Goslin. Goslin played a clean ball to him and the forward burst ahead. Akinola went past one defender before slotting the ball in the far post with an angled finish.
The Detroit-born forward is a usual starter but for once, there was no place for him in the 4-1-2-3 formation chosen by coach John Hackworth. Akinola’s response was fantastic. “I’m so proud of Ayo. He has been a starter in almost every single game for us. But today we made the decision to not start him and his answer and, more importantly, his actions were excellent”, said the US coach.
However, there was much suffering to be endured before the eventual relief came. On a hot day, both sides made one change to their starting XI. Ajax’s Sergino Dest was picked for the US as Chris Durkin adopted the role of a holding midfielder. For Ghana, Isaac Gyamfi came into the midfield at Mohammed Iddriss’ expense in what was a like-for-like change.
The weather, however, told on both sides. They seemed acutely aware of it. The opening half, for the most part, was unbearably flat. Ghana tried to force the issue more than the US but it was all pretty underwhelming.
Until we neared the half-time. Finally, the teams decided they had enough and got on with it. Eric Ayiah found an open goal in front of him but slipped before he could apply the finish. Another goalkeeping mishap nearly allowed Andrew Carleton to sneak in. Blaine Ferri came close twice with his left foot for the US.
The simmering intensity, though, was blown into life at the beginning of second period. Ghana returned with vigour and determination. Within the first seven minutes of the half, the Black Starlets had three great chances. Sadiq Ibrahim was guilty of not being able to slam the ball home from about three yards as his effort was blocked. Emmanuel Toku and Kudus Mohammed also found themselves in good situations but failed to make it count.
This was a period of real frustration for Ghana. It was the kind of vibrant football one would expect from the two-time champions but without the cutting edge. This is why, in his post-match comments, coach Paa Kwesi Fabin contended that his side could have won by a wide margin. However, when asked if his team rode their luck, the US head coach Hackworth replied in a monosyllable – “No.”
Hackworth was more elaborate in terms of his substitutions. In some senses, they changed the game for the US. The ineffective Tim Weah was replaced by Akinola while the embattled Sergino Dest was put out of his misery at right-back by Akil Watts.
Akinola’s introduction brought vitality to the US. His quick turn of feet started asking questions of Ghana’s defenders. It took about 10 minutes for the goal to arrive. Durkin won the ball on the left with impeccable resoluteness, passing it to Goslin in space who had the acute sense of picking Akinola out.
The goal knocked the wind out of Ghana’s sails. Their substitutions, before and after Akinola’s strike, did not have much impact on the game. In fact, the Black Starlets played the last 10 minutes or so in disadvantaged circumstances. Abdul Yusif was knocked out unconscious and stretchered off to a hospital. We are still awaiting updates on his health.
The unfortunate incident with Yusif meant that Ghana were a man short, as all substitutions had been used. This did not help the side’s quest for a comeback. In fact, Akinola could have put the game to bed towards the end of normal time but he skied his effort from about 12 yards. Unlike Ghana, though, the US did not have to rue their missed chances.
Ghana’s players, understandably, wore a frustrated look at full-time. But as the final group game is against India, Fabin will still feel pretty confident about his team’s prospects. The defeat is a blow but the quality of football played by his side suggests that profligacy in front of the goal is the only thing holding it back.
As for the US, they now move to Navi Mumbai for their last group engagement against Colombia. With qualification all but assured, Hackworth’s boys are sitting pretty at the top. The Americans’ attacking prowess had been much discussed ahead of the tournament and the hype seems to be worth all the chatter. The US are ones to look out for.