Ghana 2-1 United States: Ghana’s organisation and direct running results in the narrowest of victories

June 26, 2010

The starting line-ups

A tremendous football match won by the side who showed just a little bit more organisation and structure throughout, and made fewer mistakes.

Ghana made a change on the right of midfield, bringing in Samuel Inkoom – often deployed at right-back. The US fielded a line-up largely as expected, the one issue being the central midfield partner for Michael Bradley. Ricardo Clark got the nod, although he didn’t last long.

The first thing to note was that Ghana played a much more energetic defensive game than they are used to. Often, the midfielders retreat deep in front of their own defence, but today the whole side pressed throughout, particularly when the ball was played into Bradley and Clark in the midfield. Kevin Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah were especially impressive in this respect, and the US never really got going in the first half, because they weren’t able to pass the ball calmly inside their own half.

Asamoah was also doing a very good job in supporting Asamoah Gyan, the lone striker who can become isolated when Ghana hit huge long balls towards him. The presence of an extra midfield player meant that Ghana were able to build up attacks slowly and intelligently, allowing their attacking midfielders time to get forward and link up with Gyan, who led the line superbly throughout the game.

3 v 2 in the centre of midfield gives Ghana the advantage

That extra midfielder was essentially the reason Ghana dominated the first period. They were able to keep possession in the centre of the pitch and play around Bradley and Clark. On the right-hand side, Inkoom was stretching the play wonderfully by hugging the touchline, and with the US wingers playing high and centrally, their full-backs had little support. They both coped reasonably well, although Steve Cherundolo was beaten for pace a couple of times, and picked up a booking for a cynical tackle when Andre Ayew had got past him.

The goal came early on from Boateng, after he had caught Clark in possession in midfield – another sign of the pressure that the US struggled to deal with early on. Clark was having a nightmare – he was booked soon after, and was removed by Bob Bradley after just half an hour.

The change seemed to rejuvenate the US slightly, with Michael Bradley pushing forward further into midfield, almost as if he trusted Clark’s replacement, Maurice Edu, more to maintain possession in deep areas. That said, the US weren’t managing to get their two wide players into the game, and with Ghana defending very narrow, the US were unable to work the ball through the defence, and the full-backs were providing relatively little support in wide areas.

It was only in the final ten minutes of the half that one of their strikers, Altidore, really started to drop deep and pick up Annan, making it more difficult for Ghana to keep the ball. Until then, he and Robbie Findley were working on relatively the same vertical axis – a problem outlined before the tournament – and waiting for service that rarely came. Altidore sometimes dropped deep to win flick-on headers, but Ghana were winning all the second balls.

Second half switches give the impetus to the US

The line-ups for the second half, after Bob Bradley's changes. The use of Dempsey more centrally helped the US get into the game.

As he’s done so often, Bob Bradley changed things at half-time. He took the bold but obvious decision to remove Findley, a recognition that he and Altidore had been working in the same area too much, and not giving the side enough options going forward. On came Benny Feilhaber to give a more traditional wide option on the left, whilst Clint Dempsey moved forward to operate just behind Altidore.

This was what got the US back in the game. Dempsey was not only better at giving Annan more of a problem, his movement and intelligence between the lines was causing the Ghana defence all kind of trouble. The knock-on effect of this was a more prominent role for Landon Donovan, whose drifts from the right-hand side went from looking desperate to looking very dangerous. Almost everything the US created came from good runs (often off-the-ball) from Dempsey. The full-backs were playing both higher and wider than in the first half, and the US were dominating.

It was no surprise that the breakthrough came from Dempsey breaking through the defence and winning a penalty, which Donovan converted. The clearest chance after that came from Dempsey’s off-the-ball movement, which simultaneously created space for Donovan to play the ball through the defence, and space for Altidore to latch onto the ball, although he shot wide.

Ghana were contributing to their own downfall, by dropping deeper and deeper as the match wore on – a far cry from the intense pressing of the first half. Basic long balls were causing the two Mensahs a problem in the air, and Altidore was a nuisance throughout, often getting his touch wrong, but playing a basic target man role more effectively than he might be given credit for.

Substitutions swing it Ghana’s way

A forced change for Ghana was vital in clawing them back into the match. Boateng departed with a thigh problem, and on came veteran Stephen Appiah, who played in an advanced midfield role, with Asamoah dropping deeper. His ball retention higher up the pitch constantly bought the rest of the Ghana time to get forward and support the attacks, and in a young side, his experience seemed to offer a calming influence in a high-pressure situation. They seemed content to get to the end of 90 minutes with the score at 1-1.

At this point, Bradley decided to remove Altidore, and put on Herculez Gomez. Now, Altidore may have been missing chances, but at least he was getting chances, and clearly worrying the Ghana defence. Gomez may be a better option in front of goal, but the US suddenly had less of a direct route when building attacks, something they naturally looked for as extra-time went on. This problem was compounded by the fact that Donovan was looking tired and miscontrolled a couple of times, and so more intelligent build-up play was tricky.

Ghana won it from a tremendous bit of lone striker play by Gyan. A half-hearted, lofted ball over the top was turned into a brilliant through ball thank to Gyan’s pace, strength and persistence – he was able to beat both the US centre-halves to the ball, control it under pressure, and smash it into the net. He’d been slightly frustrating so far in this competition, but this showed his supreme ability as a lone frontman – you won’t find many better displays in that position this tournament, when you consider he had to do it for 120 minutes. The US centre-backs were slightly slow in reacting, and that has been a problem position for them throughout this tournament. Ultimately, it was their downfall.

They tried to get back into the game, but Ghana held on with a tremendous defensive display, and some slightly cynical tactics to slow the game down and break up play. Increasingly, long balls were being hoofed into the box, where you can’t help feeling that Altidore might have been useful. The Gyan goal seemed to lift Ghana’s fitness levels by 10% and drain the US by 10%, and although they created chances, Ghana’s defensive display was far better than the US’ attacking performance at 2-1.

Conclusion

Ghana advance into the quarter-finals, where they’ll play a Uruguay side they have every chance of beating. This was essentially everything that Ghana do best – they defended solidly and desperately, and stole two goals from mini-counter-attacks, using pace, power and direct running. They might not have superstars, but the discipline and positional awareness instilled into the side by Milovan Rajevac is incredible, and they fully deserve their quarter-final spot.

The US have provided excitement and a couple of fantastic moments, but a last 16 spot probably reflects their current ability well. The skill of Dempsey and Donovan, and the box-to-box role of Bradley elevated them to a very dangerous team when they needed a goal, but that couldn’t completely make up for the defensive mistakes throughout their four games. They’ve also shown tremendous character and team spirit – that may seem a hollow compliment after such a gutting defeat – but look at the French side to realise how important it is in getting a team playing cohesively.

Bob Bradley has shown that he’s very good at identifying problems on the pitch and finding a solution with a change in tactics and/or personnel midway through games, but he doesn’t seem to learn lessons from game to game. The starting XI tonight was wrong, evidenced by the fact that he was forced to make two changes before 46 of the 120 minutes had been played. Had he fielded Edu and Feilhaber from the off, and been able to make changes to freshen up the side in the second half, who knows what might have been?

Ghana 2-1 United States: Ghana’s organisation and direct running results in the narrowest of victories

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