All the hype and frenzy surrounding Ghana’s pre-World Cup friendly with Brazil died in just 10 minutes of the game – as Marquinhos’ header rippled the Ghana net 7 minutes in. The Black Stars players stood shell-shocked, wondering who had left his man free while they defended the set-piece.
19 minutes later, there was another Black Stars inquest, as Richarlison swept home from a Neymar pass – a goal which encompassed issues of Ghana’s defensive application. The third goal came in from another set-piece, and at that point, Black Stars players were tired of asking one another questions with only 40 minutes of the match played.
Those first 40 minutes pointed to only one thing – ‘Africa’s Brazil’ was set for a long night in France. But it was one Otto Addo was not willing to accept. So he made some changes at half-time which saw Ghana switch to a 3-4-1-2, helping the side gain control in the game.
The focus right now though, is on how the Black Stars broke down in the first half.
A first half of ‘unclosed’ spaces
If there was any phrase which described that first half, none will do it better than this. One takeaway many have from the friendly was how the Selecao toyed with the Black Stars, but that was made possible mainly through relaxed defending from the team.
Ghana set up in a 4-3-3 – Otto Addo making a bold statement of lining up in his double attacking 8 system.
This is a system the technical team have relied on since they took over management of the senior national team, and it was a commendable effort to be bold with a lineup which suggested the Black Stars wanted to take the game to Brazil.
However, it did not come to light as the Black Stars crumbled defensively, but it was not the attempt to be daring which killed the Black Stars, instead it was the failure to apply in the defensive structure.
“My selection was not a gamble, it was a decision of complex things. Line up was good but we had to work harder to close the spaces,” Otto Addo explained after the game, and rightly so. Ghana lost the game right at the start due to the flaw in defensive application.
From the 4-3-3, the Black Stars defended in a block of a 4-1-4-1, Baba Iddrisu sitting alone in front of the defence. Ahead of Iddrisu were Mohammed Kudus and Dede Ayew alongside Jordan Ayew and Kamaldeen Sulemana.
In this shape, it was the responsibility of Dede Ayew and Mohammed Kudus to track movements of opposition players on either side of Iddrisu, a responsibility both players struggled with.
Brazil, who submitted a 4-2-3-1 on paper, attacked in a 3-3-4. In their 4-2-3-1, Lucas Paqueta – an attacking midfielder, was represented as a central midfielder in a pivot with Casemiro, but he played as if he was a second striker, and often rotated with Neymar, who was given a free role.
In the 3-3-4, Eder Militao and Marquinhos were on either side of Thiago Silva in a back 3. Alex Telles, Neymar and Casemiro were the three players in midfield, while Richarlison and Paqueta played almost together upfront. Vinicius Jnr and Raphina were deployed high and wide as traditional wingers.
This was a highly-attacking version of the text book shape applied in their friendly 1-0 win over Japan.
Brazil were very fluid in their approach, as players constantly whipped and alternated their roles and positions on the field, contributing to Black Stars’ problems in defense.
Remember, the defensive role of Kudus and Dede was to control runners in half-spaces either side of sole pivot, Iddrisu, but both were unable to carry out this responsibility, creating problems for Ghana which manifested in the buildup to Brazil’s second goal.
It was a running theme in the first half, as the Black Stars’ subpar application in the 4-1-4-1 defensive structure contributed to Brazil toying with them. But solely criticising Ghana might be too harsh, as Brazil’s fluidity and constant alternations made it difficult to identify ‘runners’ in those half spaces.
And Brazil’s second goal highlights this, yet again.
How should Black Stars have defended?
The Black Stars have always defended in a 4-1-4-1 since Otto Addo stepped in, and despite the advantages it provides the team while they press, it could be very detrimental to the team in a low block if application is not very perfect, as mentioned in the conclusion here.
A compact 4-2-3-1 might have worked for the Black Stars in that first half, as explained in the Ghana in Defense section here, since it will have provided two bodies to control that space between midfield and defense Brazil so much thrived in.
And to be fair, Ghana applied the 4-2-3-1 in sporadic moments of the first half, and it helped put up a good challenge in midfield.
And in those sporadic moments, the Black Stars looked secure and in control defensively.
In Otto Addo’s post match presser, he admitted that he made some mistakes and had ‘learnt a lot more’ about his players. The first piece of Black Stars playbook explained the names Otto Addo should consider in his double-attacking 8s system, which failed to work against Brazil for reasons just explained.
So hopefully, he and the technical team will now have a clearer idea of players who will flourish the double-attacking 8s approach, else there could be trouble in Qatar.
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