The taste of defeat after a tournament exit is always sour to take; it is forever etched in your mind and heart, even.
Ghana’s 2-0 defeat to Uruguay at Al Janoub Stadium on December 2, 2022, meant the Black Stars have exited the World Cup at the group stage for the second time running.
At the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the team had some issues. Ghana’s senior men’s national team could be likened to one where money comes first and patriotism, second, as players mutinied over late appearance fees.
It was a shameful ending to what could have been a stepping to stone to a story of progress and growth from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
We ducked that and subsequently missed the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
When the draw for the 2022 FIFA World Cup was made, we had the chance to avenge defeats to Portugal and Uruguay; revenge we bottled gravely.
Numbers really do not lie as we entered the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar as the lowest ranked and really, many pundits did not have much hope for the Black Stars.
However, as the tournament progressed, one had a belief, especially as the tournament kept on making nonsense of data and numbers.
We had the opportunity to exorcise the demons from 2014, and we had the right to believe and even had a chip on our shoulders as we came to the tournament with a 2-0 win against Switzerland in our final friendly game.
We had the cards, the right cards, but somehow we failed to make use of what could have been a good mood for a pending Christmas festivity for Ghanaians amidst an ailing economy.
As a country, we needed the Black Stars to outperform to give us a glimmer of hope or happiness as we continue to battle soaring inflation and poor management of the Ghanaian economy by President Akufo-Addo, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and Ken Ofori-Atta.
Let me make some sense of what went wrong for the Black Stars of Ghana at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, as we exit with gnashing of teeth and a big pain in our chest.
INEXPERIENCE OF OTTO ADDO
For someone who had never been a head coach or manager at a club or national team level, the 2022 FIFA World Cup really came too early for him in his career, and it showed.
His inexperience was more apparent after Andre Ayew’s penalty miss; he needed to do one job, calm the boys down and lead from the touchline, but anytime the cameras were on him, he appeared confused and disjointed just as the players were on the field of play.
He did not fail, but many situations he faced during the three games at the World Cup were cases he had never seen before and had he had just a little bit of coaching experience from the touchline at the club level, I believe he would not have made some of the errors he made. An example of this will be the times we conceded goals.
Against Portugal, in about two minutes, we had conceded two goals, when we faced South Korea, we conceded two goals in about five minutes and same thing happened when we played Uruguay–we conceded two quick goals.
An experienced head coach would have identified that as a big problem and worked on it. As the saying goes, “once bitten twice shy.”
THE AYEW BROTHERS CONUNDRUM
It did not get easy for Otto Addo in his decision-making, as it is difficult to drop the Ayew brothers – Andre and Jordan.
The first of Addo’s headaches was where to play skipper, Andre Ayew and then how does he find space for Jordan.
Andre Dede Ayew provides unquestionable leadership skills and goals. As a matter of fact, he is the team’s top scorer, but the question was where do you play him? Where did he fit tactically?
Age has had a number on him and he has lost his pace so he clearly does not fit as a winger and in modern football, you cannot really on him as a number ten, so it was left with playing him as a striker, which I felt Otto Addo should have done.
Play him as striker, play Inaki Williams off him and another winger with pace to supplement him but no, not for once did Otto Addo do that the entire tournament, leaving Andre to chase after balls and try picking passes which he should have been at the receiving end.
There is also Andre’s little brother, Jordan Ayew. He grew up as a forward who could strike or play from the wings, but has evolved over the years.
He as a winger will barely give you an assist or goal from open these days for the Black Stars, although he somewhat had a good cameo against South Korea in game two at the Education City Stadium.
I believe either Andre or Jordan or at best both to sit out for players with a lot of legs to do the job from the onset during matches, as was seen anytime Kamaldeen Sulemana and Osman Bukari were introduced to the game.
POOR STARTING ELEVEN SELECTIONS
From the very first game against Portugal to the last when we played Uruguay, I am of the opinion that Otto Addo got it wrong with his selection of players to start games and his substitutions proved right that indeed, he did make errors in the players who were best for the job.
Against Portugal, there was no need for Abdul Baba Rahman when playing a back three with wing-back options. He made many errors and one of which resulted in a goal, a beautifully taken goal by Atlético Madrid forward, Joao Felix.
Starting Mohammed Kudus on the right side of attack and playing Andre Ayew as a number ten in the second game against South Korea was a tactical suicide mission, although we survived with a win.
Starting Baba Rahman ahead of Gideon Mensah against Uruguay and insisting on playing a back four in that game exposed us badly.
A game where the stakes were that high, all Otto Addo needed to do was have enough cover at the back and ignore the partnership of Daniel Amartey and Mohammed Salisu.
Our fullbacks were often left exposed which rendered Amartey and Salisu to work overtime and the goals we conceded from De Arrascaeta are evidence of my assertion. All this is on Otto Addo’s head.
The last thing I want to touch on is the mentality of the team. It was awfully low even before we kicked a ball against Uruguay.
You may think that after defeating South Korea, confidence would have soared, but it felt very measured, and it quickly went down the drain after the Andre Ayew penalty miss.
Now this is where my problem is, the captain of the Black Stars misses a penalty and it felt like déjà vu!
The stakes were too high and the 2010 World Cup was playing in the minds of the players after that miss, and everything from there was off.
The boys never got into the game and were all over the place until the final whistle.
Mentally, the team was not there and Andre Ayew did not lead from the front which was expected of him but he failed to even lift his own spirit after that miss from the spot.
All said, there were positives to pick from the group stage exit of the Black Stars.
If one did not know, it is apparent that Mohammed Kudus is a star and with time, he really will be making waves and I dare say he will be the reason Ghana will lift another Africa Cup of Nations trophy.
Mohammed Salisu and Abdul Salis Samed will only get better and stronger, and we have proper cover at right-back moving forward.
Kamaldeen Sulemana and Osman Bukari when given the chance can be decisive for the Black Stars long term, and we really are shaping well ahead of the next Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted in the Ivory Coast.
It will be a fresh start, especially after the stepping down of Otto Addo. This plays right into the hands of Chris Hughton and should he be given the nod, it will be exciting to see how the team shapes up in their next game.