Serbia 0-1 Ghana: Victory handed to Ghana, but they deserved the win

June 13, 2010

Serbian indiscipline played a large part in the scoreline, but Ghana were by far the better side and deserved their victory. Their performance was a continuation of their Africa Cup of Nations tactics – defend solidly, cautiously counter-attack, rely on Asamoah Gyan for goals.

Serbia’s side, in a 4-4-2 shape, was as expected, with Aleksandar Kolarov in at left-back the one slight question mark about personnel going into the game.

Ghana played their usual system – a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-1-1 depending on how you want to interpret it. Anthony Annan, the tough-tackling holding midfielder sat ahead of the defence and got a lot of time on the ball, whilst the midfielders looked to play short, quick passes and link with Gyan when attacking.

Ghana extra man crucial

The extra man in central midfield was essentially the crucial part of the tactical battle. Serbia’s two strikers played high up the pitch – Marko Pantelic sometimes moved to the left-hand side and Nikola Zigic chased the ball when it was lost, but they rarely looked to move towards the ball, instead looking to receive long passes from the full-backs.

Ghana not only had an extra man in midfield, they also utilized him well, playing short neat passes and forming triangles on the flanks to play around Serbia’s wide players. Although Ghana did look to counter-attack by playing the ball to the attacking three, they were intelligent enough to vary their approach when a counter wasn’t available. Rather than going down blind alleys and losing possession, they instead were happy to keep the ball in midfield,and therefore were able to dictate the tempo of the game.

Serbia passing wayward

Serbia’s approach was slightly disappointing considering they had been tipped by so many as dark horses. They continually hit huge passes from the defence to the forward two (and sometimes the wingers when they became advanced), which rarely succeeded – perhaps partially because of the Jabulani ball which appears to be causing all sides problems with their long-range passing.

Because Serbia had a numerical disadvantage in midfield, in theory this was probably the right thing to do – Ghana were getting nine men behind the ball and were excellently organised, with the two midfielders doing battle with Dejan Stankovic and Nenad Milijas, and Annan sweeping up behind.

In practice, however, it didn’t help Serbia. They continually gave the ball away cheaply and were prone to counter-attacks with neither Milijas or Stankovic really playing a holding role. It also meant the technical quality in midfield was bypassed; Milan Jovanovic and Milos Krasic will be disappointed with their performances, but in truth they were rarely receiving the ball where they wanted it, to feet on the flanks.

Kolarov and Ivanovic fail to support midfield

The discipline of Ghana’s wingers and the nature of Serbia’s long ball game also made it difficult for Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic to become involved in build-up play – Ivanovic is a reluctant full-back but should have been used more. Kolarov looked to moved into attacking positions – which works quite well as Aleksandar Lukovic can play at left-back and so is happy covering on the flank, but Kolarov rarely influenced the game in the attacking third – which is unlike him.

Again, the extra man in midfield was a good insurance policy if Kolarov got past Prince Tage – Kwadwo Asamoah could move out to the flank to confront him, and Kevin Prince Boateng and Annan would cover in the centre, still 2 v 2 against Serbia’s midfield. Neither Milijas or Stankovic looked to break into the box, and therefore Ghana were never really in danger either from the flanks, or through the middle.

Raddy Antic clearly decided that the midfielder partnership wasn’t working, and brought on Zdravko Kuzmanovic to try and get the ball moving in a more intelligent manner. Serbia did start to impose themselves more on the game, having more possession in the second half, but it was Kuzmanovic who eventually gave away the needless, crucial penalty.┬áIn the meantime Lukovic had been dismissed for a cynical challenge, and Serbia’s defence did look slightly prone to counter-attacks – they were lucky not to give away more free-kicks by breaking up counter-attacks with rash tackles.

Gyan the man

Ghana’s use of one man upfront meant they struggled to make too many clear-cut chances, but Gyan’s intelligent running into the channels did cause a constant threat to the Serbia defence. Ghana only had three shots on target, and they all came from the Rennes striker. He also hit the post twice – once from a near post header on the right, once from a low shot from the left. Lone strikers need to be able to cause a nuisance to both centre-backs, and Gyan does that excellently.


Overall, it was an nice summary of why 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formations often get the better of 4-4-2s. Ghana were able to dominate the centre of midfield and control the tempo, whilst their wingers kept Serbia’s full-backs out of the game. They relied heavily upon Gyan for an attacking threat, but with their defence looking relatively secure, one goal was enough – even if it was gifted to them by Kuzmanovic.

Serbia were extremely disappointing and their long balls were gratefully headed away by John Mensah and Isaac Vorsah. They played better in the second half when their approach play was more intelligent and they started to draw Ghana’s defenders out of position. Taking Zigic off and putting on Danko Lazovic switched Serbia to 4-2-3-1 and they looked more confident, even when they went down to ten men, they played better football with 4-2-3-1 than 4-4-2, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Antic start the next game – a tough contest against Germany – with this shape.

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