Ghana: defensive, cohesive and underrated

June 5, 2010

Ghana's probably first XI

“Tactically naive” is the common criticism for any African side which fails, generally regardless of the nature of their defeat or their manager’s tactical acumen. Ghana showed at the Africa Nations Cup earlier this year that they are anything but tactically naive.

As if to emphasize what a silly criticism it is, Ghana were then labelled boring and defensive for daring to set out in a fashion that might maximise their chances of victory. It nearly was an overall victory – they were defeated in the final by an Egpyt side which didn’t qualify for this World Cup, but overall Ghana emerged from the tournament with their reputation enhanced more than any other side, especially after Michael Essien became injured against the Ivory Coast.

They will be forced to cope without him for this tournament too. Captain and unquestionably the most talented player, Essien’s absence is huge. The positive is that central midfield is an area of the pitch Ghana are well-stocked in, and neither their formation or system will have to significantly change in response to his injury.

The starting XI

They will set out with a lone striker, Asamoah Gyan, a player better at running the channels than finding the net. He is a good footballer who will cause sides problems, but his lack of goals are part of the reason Ghana are seen as slightly boring.

It doesn’t help, either, that they often play with only one winger – generally on the right, where the small, tricky Andre Ayew (the son of the legendary Abedi Pele) will be stationed, providing the most direct attacking threat from midfield. They could play Kwadwo Asamoah on the left to offer a threat from both sides, but it is more likely they will play an off-centre diamond of four physical central midfielders.

A possible, more attacking alternative shape, featuring two natural wingers

Inter’s Sulley Muntari will start on the left-hand side, offering technical quality and plenty of running, but relatively little creativity for a player with a big attacking responsibility. The pattern is repeated in the centre where Stephen Appiah plays more advanced than he has for much of his club career, fitting a pattern at this tournament of African central midfielders pushed forward into unorthodox playmaker roles.

Anthony Annan is a classic holding player in front of the defence, and the final central midfielder is a Boateng – Derek, not Kevin-Prince – who provides a box-to-box presence. It’s hard to imagine a European or South American side playing with four such similar central midfielders in one side, but Ghana start as the underdogs in a tough group, and will look to physically impose themselves in the centre of the pitch.

The back four are defensive-minded with the full-backs rarely getting themselves into attacking positions. John Paintstil will hope to start on the left of the defence, though he faces competition from Lee Addy – a relative unknown, as the only outfield player who plays club football in his home country.


Ghana were more likely to make an impact on the world with their results rather than their playing style, but their place in a tough group and the loss of Essien makes it hard to see them progressing.

Nevertheless, Milovan Rajevac’s side are well-organised and will be difficult to beat – the same could be said of their opening day opponents Serbia, and Group D could turn out to be very low-scoring.

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