In the lead up to this final Group D encounter, I found a curious statistic; Ghana and Egypt, who share 11 titles between them (4 to Ghana; 7 to Egypt), have only met three times at the AFCON.
This fourth meeting at Port-Gentil in Gabon, 19:00 GMT, however means more than just three points to both sides. Ghana would be looking to beat Egypt and exact revenge for the recent 2-0 loss in the 2018 World Cup qualifier in Cairo as well as consolidate its position by winning the group with either a draw or a win. Egypt on the other hand, have a not so simple task of beating Ghana to be assured of qualification to the quarter finals.
The ambition for each side is clear and this match-up is a neutral’s delight. For Ghana, any result apart from a loss would be respectable, but with a not so convincing performance in the two previous games (beat both Uganda and Mali with similar 1-0 score lines), Ghana coach, Avram Grant, can definitely use some tips. Wouldn’t he? I bet he would, let’s go!
Rest Key Players
If I were Grant I would be in a dilemma too. So, here is the scenario: your team, the Black Stars have qualified for the quarter finals of the2017 AFCON with one game to spare, a game you can even afford to lose. However, the opponent is Egypt, the same Egypt that beat you recently; same Egypt that you would play again in the World Cup qualifier later in the year. The importance of getting revenge, clawing back some pride and gaining some psychological boost ahead of the knockout stage as well as future encounters wouldn’t be lost on Grant. He may be tempted to parade the winning team from the two previous games. You know how the cliché goes: you don’t change a winning team. But then the risk of parading the same “winning team” against Egypt looms. There is the risk of a key player picking up a card or an injury and then missing out on the more crucial knock out games. Then there is also the risk of forgoing an opportunity to give the fringe players a run out, a feel of the competition. If the opportunity is forgone, the team could come up short in the event of any injuries or suspension.
Well, my advice for Grant would be to be bold and rest some key players especially, Dede Ayew and Asamoah Gyan. Both players can serve as impact subs in case the Black Stars are on the back foot. I would love to see Grant introduce Ebenezer Ofori, Samuel Tetteh, Jonathan Mensah and even Ebenezer Assifuah. The benefits of introducing these fringe players cannot be overestimated. These players would want to prove themselves, hence go all out versus Egypt. A decent result would further boost their confidence are would be ready replacements for the regulars going forward in the tourney. Sounds like a win win, but would Avram heed?
Restrict Abdallah El Said
So, they attention may be on the face of Egyptian football, Mohamed Salah, but trust me the real mcCoy, the silent killer, the don Corleone is Ahly’s attacking midfielder Abdallah El Said. El Said has developed a habit of going about his job quietly but effectively and also sneaking in on goal when you least expect. For a midfielder, his goal return of 67 in just over 200 club games is outstanding. Indeed, Ghana would know a lot about him, as he snuck up late to score Egypt’s second goal in the last meeting of the two teams in the 2018 World Cup Qualifier in November 2016. Indeed, EL Said has 2 goals in 2 games in the World Cup qualifiers already and was on hand again to score the winner versus Uganda at the ongoing AFCON. Ignore El Said at your own peril Mr. Grant.
Respond in Real Time
If Grant fails to heed to my tips above, I could forgive him, yes I would, but I wouldn’t if he fails to respond in real time for the third match running. What am I talking about? I am referring to how the Black Stars faded in the second half of two successive games without any form of tactical rejigging or adjustment by Avram Grant. Surprisingly, Grant made same changes in both games versus Uganda and Mali by withdrawing Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Ayew for Agyemang Badu and Afriyie Acquah. Now here is my “weley”. Grant by making the same changes sent across 2 signals to us fans, journalists, pundits and citizens.
Grant in effect, is telling us that he already has a default substitution cards, completely oblivious of the peculiar dynamics of a particular game. Grant is telling us that both Uganda and Mali basically lined up in the same formation and also presented similar problems in the course of the match. Now, here goes my advice to Grant. Ghana needs you to identify peculiar gaps in the a particular game; identify tactical switches by opposing coaches and then fashion a counter in real time, while the game is in progress; make those real time changes early so that the Black Stars aren’t pinned to the ropes for large parts of the second half. A team with sharp strikers like Senegal’s Sadio Mane would do damage if this trend continues. Grant in a media interview indicated that the Black Stars’ laid back approach in the second half of matches was to protect leads. Well, breaking news Mr., Grant, it’s not always that you reinforce your midfield to protect up your defense; you can prevent the onslaught by either keeping the opposing defense busy by introducing a pacy forward to occupy the opposing defense hence reducing the weight of the opposing team’s attacks or simply tweaking the entire shape to neutralize the opposition tactic. This is what a seasoned coach should be doing instead of using template changes. Should Grant heed my tips, come 21:00 GMT, we can comfortably announce that we are indeed cruising to victory.
Nii Ayitey Tetteh