With all the talk around the game surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo and his recent controversial interview, it felt like a perfect time for Ghana to come in under the radar and snatch a win in their World Cup opener. Missing the last tournament in Russia, the Black Stars would want to reinvigorate the magic of their history making run back in 2010, where if not for possibly one of the most villainous moments in World Cup history, would have become the first African team to reach the semi-finals.
We did see some of that spirit in flashes against Portugal, but ultimately it was quite a frustrating performance for Ghana, who didn’t realise their full potential throughout the game.
It was a very slow contest for a large portion of the match; despite five being scored we didn’t see a goal until the 65th minute.
There were half chances in the first half, mainly spawning from passing errors from Ghana. The biggest one of note resulting in Ronaldo putting the ball in the back of the net, but only for it to be chalked off following an offside decision.Embed from Getty Images
Portugal were not as impressive as we thought they would be, but Ghana made them look far too in control of this game for much of it. Especially in the first half, there felt like there was no urgency from them. When they won the ball there was no strong drive or desire to get forward, everything was very slow meaning Portugal were quite comfortably able to regroup before any real damage could be done.
It wasn’t any quicker off the ball either. They adopted quite a deep line of engagement, allowing Portugal to keep possession and take their time to progress up the pitch. When they did look to press there wasn’t much urgency or aggression. It felt like they were very happy to come and claim a point off their opponents and if we are honest that would have been a very good result from them on paper.
However, we have already seen the success of Saudi Arabia and Japan against world giants Argentina and Germany, with this success coming from a very aggressive pressing and drive to actually go forward and attack the goal. I felt as if there was a missed opportunity, with the attacking potential we saw later in the game, to also set up like this tactically.
When that goal did finally come, it was supplied by the man himself. Ronaldo fired a penalty past Ati-Zigi to put his nation ahead and become the first player to ever score in five separate World Cup tournaments. A feat we may never see matched again. Remarkable.
How the penalty came about was hugely protested by the Ghanaians. Mohammed Salisu was penalised for a trip on Ronaldo, which was certainly a contentious decision. From replays there looked to be very little contact, and to me looked as though Ronaldo largely bought what was a very soft penalty.
It did however seem like a needless challenge, with Ronaldo running away from goal, Salisu maybe had less pressure than he thought to lunge in with a challenge and could have looked to shield him away from goal, allowing more White shirts to drop back in support.
Very easy for me to say though, sat at home under no pressure from one of the worlds all time greats.
With credit to Ghana, they didn’t take long to put together a response to conceding. A through ball down the left hand side was run onto by Mohammed Kudus, who found the feet of André Ayew with a low cross in front of goal. An easy finish for Ayew’s third goal in a World Cup, made so by the excellent work from compatriot Kudus, a real bright star for Ghana last night.
This is the attacking potential I spoke about; they pushed forward quickly and the end result was a goal. If they can put more sequences together like this in their next two group games, they certainly have a chance at giving a good fight for the second spot. I think the addition of Tariq Lamptey helped with this. He offered more of an attacking presence than Seidu and consciously looked to move the ball forward, in two touches or less.
From a good substitution to a more questionable one, as only three minutes after both being directly involved in the equaliser, Ayew and Kudus were brought off by Otto Addo. For me, this decision changed the remainder of the game. Ayew was high on confidence after just scoring and Kudus had been Ghana’s most inspired player on the pitch all game. Every time Kudus received the ball he was looking to turn and drive at his man, something the team was lacking and could really not afford to lose. Again, it felt like a tactical decision for a game plan that was comfortable with just a draw.Embed from Getty Images
A couple of minutes on from this, Portugal would go back ahead. Getting caught in his feet, Baba let a driven pass through to João Félix, who finished nicely into the far corner just inside the box. Not even two minutes on from this Portugal scored a third. This time Leão finishing off a nice counter attack with a first time effort guided into the bottom corner.
Although those earlier changes from Addo suited the mentality of holding out a draw, his side was now left two goals behind and without two of their top attacking-minded players to help mount a realistic comeback.
The game felt like it was done and dusted after the third Portuguese goal, but an 89th minute header from Bukari seemed to reignite some passion within the Black Stars. Another fast-paced attacking move down the left hand side being the foundation for the goal.
Bukari’s attempt at copying Ronaldo’s famous celebration also did not go unnoticed.
It really felt like a special moment could be on the horizon and it so, so nearly was. In the tenth minute of stoppage time, young keeper Meireles da Costa dropped the ball at his feet unaware of Iñaki Williams presence. A golden opportunity, but a slip from the Bilbao striker meant he couldn’t fully capitalise on the chance, keeping the scores as they were. A lack of concentration from the goalkeeper almost gifting Ghana a point, but not quite.
Moving into their next group games I think it’s clear Ghana need to play with more attacking pace and trust in their own ability more. It felt like they played with an underdog mentality, but they showed when they did look to attack and play more freely, they have goals in them. Two goals scored against a big side like Portugal is also a positive which can be built on.
It’s the Korea Republic next for Ghana, a great opportunity to bounce back with a result.