The job of a coach is incredibly tough to do; wins get hailed as players get the most praise with the men on the sidelines getting the most hate when things go awry.
In the aftermath of Ghana’s 0-1 loss to Kenya in a 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier, Ghana Head Coach Kwesi Appiah has been the subject of criticism over the shock loss. Despite ongoing turmoil in the World Cup quarterfinalist annals, few expected the Black Stars to fall to minnows Kenya especially looking at the latter’s state heading into the game.
The Harambee Stars played against Ghana without two of its best and most experienced players in McDonald Mariga and brother Victor Wanyama who missed out due to injury.
Kenya had defender Jerim Onyango sent off after 62 minutes due to a late tackle on Majeed Waris close to the penalty box. As the last man, Onyango was rightly sent off but his teammates ensured his absence wouldn’t lead Kenya to miss out on a glorious win.
Playing against a lowly ranked side without two key players and ending the contest a man short are the recipes for a convincing Ghana win. The contrary happened and Ghana continues to slump deeper into a dark place associated with matters on corruption reforms back home.
As poor as some of Ghana’s players were, Coach Appiah’s decisions influenced the loss which makes reservations about him valid. Had Raphael Dwamena, Majeed Waris, Christian Atsu and Afriyie Acquah converted big chances, Appiah’s methods would have been received differently. To prevent
For starters, his decision to play Daniel Opare at the expense of Kwadwo Asamoah at the left full back position easily sticks out. After a nomadic club career and lengthy absence from the senior national team, Opare’s selection in the starting unit ahead of Harrison Afful and Asamoah was surprising.
Afful has played in the position for several years and despite his four year absence, Asamoah is accustomed to the role after three straight seasons in the spot for Juventus. Heavily favoring his right foot, Opare failed to provide extra width down the left to stretch Kenya’s defense further and open spaces behind; with Asamoah, that wouldn’t have been a problem.
Funny enough, Appiah played Asamoah at left full back and wingback early in the latter’s conversion to the position at Juventus. Experimenting with Asamoah in that role at the 2013 AFCON cost Ghana three points in a 2-2 draw against DR Congo and the cup. Why Coach Appiah willingly played a novice Asamoah against all wishes then but fail to play him in the same spot with loads of blessings now, beats me?
Kwesi Appiah doubled down on fixing players in relatively new positions by playing Thomas Partey in an advanced role to support lead Forward Waris. In an attempt to maximize Partey’s deep and wide ranging strengths, Atletico Madrid’s midfielder was tasked with more creativity than defensive plays. Charging forward frequently than ever before fetched Partey an unforgettable hat trick against Congo Brazzaville in the last World Cup qualifiers. It is similar to N‘Golo Kante’s advanced role in Maurizio Sarri’s system at Chelsea. But time and patience is needed for players to perfect executing their new roles and with Partey that is hard to come by since Atletico play him further back. His influence grew when pushed back into midfield and highlighted this with an outstanding pass Dwamena should have connected for a goal. Without Dwamena, Partey dropped deeper to get things going in a poor first half for Ghana isolating Waris in the process.
Generally setting up his side in a 4-5-1 formation highlighted Kwesi Appiah’s conservatism in a game a bolder approach would have been enough to get the win. Playing Waris up top alone against a Kenyan side that sat deep limited Ghana in creating chances and when we did mostly through Atsu, his deliveries- not entirely of the best quality- met no Ghanaian bodies in the box. This changed sharply with the introduction of Dwamena in the second half as Ghana pressed forward more and created a wealth of opportunities it should have taken. Failing to change the Black Stars “slow starters” psyche has been a flaw in Appiah’s time just like previous coaches. Changing that would be a significant step in altering the Black Stars with a host of athletic players into an aggressive team that presses opposing teams high up the pitch.
Ghana is still in the running for a place in Cameroon next year but to make it there and seal the country’s long awaited fifth continental title, Kwesi Appiah has to get his tactics right.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah