Saturday, June 26, 2010

USA-Ghana Preview

Dan (not Daniel, but another Dan) was born and raised in California. In today's match, he'll be rooting for Ghana. He has an explanation for this, but it's not a good one. As he is the expert on the Ghanaian soccer team, he's been nice enough to give us a preview of the game:

As the foremost expert on the Ghanaian national soccer team in Sam’s circle of friends, I’ve been asked to write a preview of the upcoming round of 16 match between the US and the Black Stars. I’ve been hooked on Ghanaian soccer ever since the second day I spent studying abroad in Accra, when I got ripped off buying a Ghana jersey and needed to find a way to justify the expense. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I rooted for Ghana when they beat the US 2-1 back in 2006. Despite the cries of “Traitor,” “Terrorist,” “Don’t Tread” and “Give Back Your Passport,” I plan on doing so again on Saturday. I’d go into the reasons why, but either you know me or you probably don’t care that much, so I’ll get on with the preview.

The Ghana Black Stars
There are a couple reasons why the U.S. should beat Ghana now and hope to avoid them in 2014: 

First, Ghana’s best player isn’t in South Africa. Michael Essien, who plays for Chelsea and is known for his strikes of unbelievable quality, is injured. Many predicted that the Black Stars wouldn’t get out of their group because of his absence, but they still are not the same team without him.

Second, Ghana is the youngest team in the World Cup. Featuring a number of players from the team that won the Under-20 World Cup in a penalty shootout against Brazil, Ghana’s average age is only 24 yrs 9 months and they brought 5 players who still couldn’t get past the bouncer at your favorite neighborhood bar. They’re probably 4 years away from making a deep run.

Perhaps the best news for Ghanaians is that they can stop accusing their Serbian coach, Milovan Rajevac, of being a traitor now that Serbia is out. Rajevac has turned Ghana into a more defensive, cautious team than the self-proclaimed “Brazilians of Africa” have been in the past. Much to Eric Cantona’s chagrin, they’ve played a 4-5-1 all tournament and have yet to score in open play, only converting 2 penalty kicks so far. This isn’t out of the ordinary unfortunately, as Ghana have scored more than one goal exactly one time in their last 12 games (that was on the road in Ouagadougou (best capital ever) against the powerful Burkina Faso national team). It seems to work for Ghana though, since they still managed to reach the African Cup of Nations final during that stretch, after three straight 1-0 victories.

The Matchups
Ghana’s Offense vs. USA’s Defense: Otherwise known as the the stoppable force against the moveable object. The US has looked shaky in the back throughout the tournament and Ghana seems to only be able to score when the other team is down to 10 men and Obama slogan stealer Asamoah “Yes We” Gyan scores a penalty kick. Ghana have created a fair number of chances, but haven’t been able to finish them and that could be their undoing on Saturday. Despite Ghana’s better celebratory goal dances, this one is Advantage USA.

Midfields: Despite the loss of Essien, Ghana’s strength is still in the midfield. Bolstered by mercenary Kevin Prince-Boateng (who, just before the World Cup, opted to play for Ghana over Germany—which is where he was born and is who his brother plays for) and Hungry Hungry Anthony Annan (who once bit an opposing player on the stomach), Ghana have more creative ability, strength and speed in the midfield, which gives them the edge over the USA’s talent in Donovan and Dempsey. Advantage Ghana.

USA’s Offense vs. Ghana’s Defense: While Ghana’s central defender and captain John Mensah is known as the “Rock of Gibraltar,” Goalkeeper Richard Kingson is a bit of an adventure. He gifted Australia a goal in the group stage and can often be found out of position doing who knows what when the ball is crossed into the box. Ghana’s back 4 are solid overall though, and will make life tough for the USA. That said, the US has found ways to score (albeit late ways) in each game so far and I think they have a slight edge here. Advantage USA.

Intangibles: The USA has plenty of momentum, they’re due for a lucky break or a decent call at some point and they’ve got the whole revenge thing going after being knocked out by Ghana in 2006. On the other hand, Ghana will be the only African side left in the final 16. South African fans will no doubt rally around the Black Stars (though no one will be able to tell because every moment of every game sounds like vuvuzela), but Sub-Saharan Africa’s first independent country will play inspired soccer on behalf of the entire continent. Advantage Ghana.

The USA should win this game. Ghana have been a bit lucky so far and have basically scrapped their way out of a tough group. The US, on the other hand, has had brilliant stretches in this World Cup and has more overall talent. The game likely goes one of two ways: either the US continues waiting until halftime to show up and lets Ghana steal one early, or they play like they can and score two goals which, against this Ghanaian team, might be the equivalent of reaching double digits in a 4th grade basketball league.

I’ll take the US 2-1, but after I finish writing this, I’m done being unbiased. So, you can all come to receive your gloating after Ghana knocks out the only team that doesn’t know what the game they’re playing is called, at which point 27 people will actually be sad, 24.9 million will shrug their shoulders and the rest of the 275 million will go back to their Dancing with the Stars Marathon unmoved, while the entire country of Ghana probably takes at least a week off from work to party. Yes We Gyan!


  1. No mention of Michael Essien is complete without this, he only missed the ball by three and a half feet:

  2. Sorry Freedland, I can't hear your comment over this celebration: