Germany 1-0 Ghana: Ghana pay the price for not picking up Özil, but both progress

June 23, 2010

The starting line-ups

Like yesterday’s Uruguay v Mexico game – a strange contest, because both teams were happy with the scoreline as it stood for most of the second half.

As such, mentality and strategy are difficult to assess, but these are certainly the best two sides in the group, and they put on a great show in Durban that resulted in a narrow victory for Germany, the group winners.

Germany made two changes from the side that lost to Serbia. One was enforced – with Miroslav Klose’s suspension giving way to the popular Cacau – whilst the other one was tactical, Jerome Boateng replacing Holger Badstuber. Ghana’s team was as expected – the main story being Kevin Prince Boateng facing his brother Jerome, in a World Cup first.

The match panned out broadly as expected. Germany dominated possession in midfield, involved their full-backs more in build-up play, and pressed high up the pitch. Ghana played their usual game – sitting deep, being disciplined and excellent defensively, and breaking at speed through the wide players (the attacking band of three seemed to rotate throughout), and long balls to the lone striker, Asamoah Gyan.

Positional surprises

There were two surprising developments in terms of positioning. Firstly, despite Philip Lahm being comfortable on either side, and more than happy to return to left-back, Jerome Boateng was deployed as a straight swap for Badstuber, rather than with Lahm shifting across. This probably helped the cohesion of the side, and Lahm a has a good relationship with his Bayern teammate Thomas Muller down the right, but it did cause problems when Boateng (less technically gifted) ventured forward, as he was forced to come back on his right-hand side.

Ozil (in pink) constantly found space "in the hole", with the Ghana central midfielders (in yellow) higher up the pitch, not picking him

The other – and much more crucial – surprise was the way Ghana set out their midfield. In their loose 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 system, you would expect the deepest midfielder, the tough-tackling Anthony Annan, to move goalside of Mesut Ozil and pick him up whenever Germany had the ball. But there was no thought to do this – instead he, KP Boateng and the third midfielder, generally Kwadwo Asamoah, looked to press and close down Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira when they got the ball, leaving Ozil free behind Cacau.

A fairly similar tactic was what defeated Australia in the first game. The Australians tried to press all over the pitch, but because they only had two central midfielders they left Ozil free, and he ran riot. The situation here was not quite as grave for Ghana, because unless Ozil immediately looked for a forward pass, Annan was generally able to recover, and Ghana were able to restore a 3 v 3 situation in the centre of midfield.

Ozil was not as effective as he was against Australia, but the time and space he was afforded still caused Ghana problems. Ghana were effectively treating him as a withdrawn striker rather than an offensive midfield player, and he used this freedom to drop into deep and wide positions in order to dictate play. Germany’s clearest chance of the first half came when he was left free, one-on-one with Richard Kingson, but blasted it straight at the goalkeeper. The Ghana centre-backs were primarily concerned with Cacau and failed to pick Ozil up – had Klose been fit, his superior movement would have created even more space for Ozil.

Ghana have chances, but Ozil strikes

Despite Germany having the better of the game, Ghana were breaking and creating chances of their own. Yet again, they lacked clinical finishing, and for all the pace and direct running they offered, you were never completely sure they were going to actually put the ball in the net. They’ve been extremely impressive at this tournament and yet have relied on two penalties for the goals.

That should not detract from the performances of Gyan, the scorer of both penalties. He works hard throughout the game when Ghana don’t have the ball – dropping deep but also moving onto one of the opposition centre-backs, making them unavailable for a pass. When Ghana do win possession, he’s then in a position to make a run into one of the channels to receive a ball over the top, although he often finds himself with little support.

When Germany’s goal came, it was inevitably from Ozil. Whether you can blame the amount of time and space he had upon Annan not being goalside of him in open play is debatable – Germany’s attack leading to the goal was hardly swift, and Ghana should have had time to take up a decent defensive shape and pick up players. But leaving a player as dangerous as Ozil in that amount of space on the edge of the box is asking for trouble, and if Annan had been given more of a specific defensive task (not a man-marking job, just a deeper role with the intention of tracking Ozil’s movement), then the goal might not have happened. Regardless, it was a tremendous strike – and was in keeping with the high standard of the game.

Ozil was clearly left in too much space for the goal

It was a match that seemed to die soon after. Germany were more than content with the 1-0 lead, and the Ghana bench were visibly aware of the score from the Australia v Serbia game, so would have been known that a 1-0 defeat was good enough for them – conceding late goals on the counter-attack after pushing forward for an equaliser may have worsened their goal difference, and sent them out. Therefore, the final 15 minutes were played at a slow pace, both sides were happy with the outcome, and we were denied what, under different conditions, would have been an excellent finish.


Germany are clearly an excellent side. The movement and fluidity in their team is admirable, and the fowards runs of both Khedira and Ozil are very difficult to pick up. They also create space for Schweinsteiger, who looks truly at home in the centre of midfield.

Question marks remain about the defence – they look slightly vulnerable to counter-attacks – and the wide players can both be rather frustrating. Cacau did a decent job upfront but no more, and Klose clearly fits into the side better.

England must make sure to take care of Ozil. Both Germany’s wins have come when Ozil was given space to play – Gareth Barry will be crucial in tracking runs, something he did well against Algeria. Matching Germany by deploying an extra central midfielder is the best bet, but Fabio Capello seems unwilling to change England’s 4-4-2 system.

Ghana deservedly progress, although it is slightly disappointing that they lost this game because of a slight defensive problem – as up until then, they had been faultless in that respect. They certainly struggle for goals, but were up against decent defences in this group – maybe they’ll find more joy against the US.

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