Zambia 1-0 Ghana: Ghana fail to break down deep opposition and Zambia subs win it
Emmanuel Mayuka came off the bench to score an excellent goal, and Zambia are in the final.
Zambia coach Herve Renard made a couple of surprising moves, dropping Mayuka to bring James Chamanga in the side upfront. He also went more defensive in midfield, meaning no place for the tricky Chisamba Lungu, and Isaac Chanca pushed out wide.
Ghana coach Goran Stefanovic was without Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, so Derek Boateng started in the centre of midfield. Sulley Muntari was only on the bench, with Kwadwo Asamoah and the Ayew brothers supporting Asamoah Gyan.
Ghana dominate the ball
The game started at a slightly quicker tempo than in many matches in this tournament so far. Ghana, as expected, dominated possession throughout the game, finishing with just over 60% of the ball. Their task was to try to break down a resilient Zambia defence, who were supported well by two very defensive-minded holding players.
That said, sometimes the Sinkala-Kasonde duo got drawn too high up the pitch towards the Ghana holders, Anthony Annan and Boateng. This meant a little bit of space opened up for Asamoah between the lines, and he was probably the main Ghana threat when Zambia got men behind the ball. He had a good chance before half time that was deflected just wide, and also won the penalty that Gyan missed.
Zambia start cautiously
Zambia lined up in a 4-2-2-2ish system that meant they got two banks of four behind the ball, and then attempted to break quickly with the two wide players coming in off the flanks. In fact, the wingers actually swapped around after roughly 15 minutes, with Chansa on the left and Rainford Kabala, their most dangerous player on the ball, on the right. Kabala drove forward with the ball into the centre of the pitch and sometimes further across to the left to combine with Chansa, and attempted a couple of through balls.
But Zambia were struggling to get a grip of the game in midfield, and their main threat came from a couple of cleverly-worked corners.
Ghana then started playing some good combinations down their right. Andre Ayew would come inside into the centre of the pitch, allowing rampaging right-back Samuel Inkoom down on the overlap. His crossing was often poor, but he stretched the play well and took advantage of the fact Zambia’s wingers were often out of position at transitions from attack to defence. In fact, the reason Renard switched his wingers may have been because Chansa is the more defensively aware player, and could therefore track Inkoom.
Ghana didn’t replicate the threat from full-back on the other side – Lee Addy remained extremely deep and didn’t help Ghana switch the play. Everything went down the centre – the two brothers came inside and made everything too predictable, and Ghana had their usual problem: they lack creativity to break sides down when they can’t play on the break.
The game was largely decided by substitutions, and the fact that Zambia turned to the bench for quickly shouldn’t be overlooked. In fairness to Stefanovic, his three substitutions seemed to be for injuries, with John Mensah clearly struggling, Gyan not 100% and Ayew going down injured before being withdrawn.
Nevertheless, Renard got his changes right – he moved back to the XI he’d used in the 3-0 quarter-final win over Sudan. Mayuka replaced Chamanga up top and offered more of an attacking threat – he had more pace, so could receive passes over the top of the Ghana defence, and picked up the ball closer to goal than Chamanga did.
The other change saw the holder Kasonde removed, with Sinkala becoming the sole holding player, and Chansa moved to the centre to drive forward from there. The man coming on was Chisamba Lungu, who ran at the Ghana defence and gave the ball away unnecessarily a couple of times, but helped to force Inkoom back.
The goal came both indirectly and directly because of the changes. Lungu had caused danger down the left and then played a silly backheel to concede possession. But this forced Inkoom into a rare bit of defensive duty, and his limitations there were demonstrated by his poor clearance to Chansa.
Chansa had already moved forward more and started plotting on the edge of the box, and here he played the ball into Mayuka, made a run past him (which would never have happened from a central midfielder before the changes), and Mayuka curled it expertly into the far corner.
The three Zambia players to touch the ball before the goal were Lungu (a sub), Chansa (in a new position after the subs), and Mayuka (a sub).
The bench worked well for Zambia, but in moving back to his XI for the previous game, maybe Renard was simply correcting the errors he made in his starting selection. It will surely be the XI that ended the game that starts the final on Sunday.
Few predicted Ghana’s exit here, but the manner was far from a surprise. Too predictable in the final third and lacking creativity – as discussed late last year, they haven’t yet figured out how to score goals when they’re the side dictating the play.