With the FIFA Youth Championship (Egypt 2009) drawing to a close, I have been spending some time looking at the possible performance the two nations (Ghana and Brazil) are going to put up. I have been looking for what it will take for one of these two football nations to outclass the other, and I must say I am struggling to produce a list.
Surely I would want Ghana to win. Looking at the big picture, The Black Satellites have much more burning reason to win this tournament than Brazil – Vengeance! South Americans (especially Brazil and Argentina) have given Ghana too much trouble in FIFA tournaments. For this reason they have been perpetually placed on Ghana’s wanted list at any level of the beautiful game.
In Ghana, there is an unwritten command to any national team. Brazil and Argentina are to be marked, attacked, defeated and humiliated wherever and whenever any Ghanaian team comes across them. Chasing this instruction has proven to be a tall order some of the times. For instance, it was Brazil which killed Ghana’s hopes of lifting the U-20 cup in 1993 and I believe this might just be the year to execute the unwritten order.
My people say that “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself” In Ghana’s vengeance quest, it becomes important for the Black Satellites to be careful they don’t go digging dig holes for themselves and then end up creating a bigger vengeance quest for posterity. After all, “if you go throwing stones in the market place, you are only risking hitting one of your own.” If the Satellites are to successfully execute their vengeance mission, one question must be answered.
What makes the Brazilian Seleção 2009 a dangerous team? Perhaps answers to this question will bring out pointers to an imminent Ghana victory in the finals!
A general overview
Since Ghana beat Brazil in the round of 16 at the Peru 2007 U-17 championship (courtesy Isaac Donkor’s lone goal), both teams have undergone some changes. Only 3 of the Brazilian Peru 2007 U-17 squad graduated to the U-20 level in 2009 (Alex Teixeira, Guilliano and Maicon). In the case of Ghana, up to 5 players survived (Ransford Osei, Daniel Opare, Joseph Addo, Robert Dabuo and Philip Boampong). Now, of these survivors, whereas Alex and Guilliano are regulars at U-20 for Brazil, only Ransford Osei is a regular for Ghana. Also, while Ghana kept Sellas Tetteh, Brazil has a different coach in Rogerio. In reality therefore, this game is going to be a completely different ball game from the Peru 2007 clash.
A tale of the defence and attack tapes
Barring the quality of opposition met along the road to the finals. The statistics would have us believe that although Ghana shoots and scores more frequently than Brazil (16 goals for Ghana; 14 goals for Brazil), Brazil is a better converter of chances than Ghana with a 45% chance of getting their shots (107) on target (48) compared to Ghana’s 40% accuracy (132 shots; 53 on target).
Brazil is again yards ahead of Ghana defensively. Throughout this tournament, both teams have had almost the same shots taken at them (85 for Ghana and 86 for Brazil). 41.2% of the time shots against Ghana (35) were on target while shots against Brazil (32) were on target 37.2% of the time. One can argue about the role of both defences allowing the shots to be taken in the first place. But there is so much a defensive set up can do. What is interesting though is that, ceteris paribus, if the shots taken against Brazil were as accurate as those taken against Ghana, they would have conceded 7 goals which would still have been better than Ghana’s 8 goals conceded.
So what then makes Brazil so dangerous?
One would be beating the dead horse to repeat that the Brazilians are skilful; possess amazing vision; have a good coach; have a good shotstopper in Rafael; have some good crossing abilities and the aptitude to connect these crosses etc etc. In my opinion, these do not make Brazil more dangerous than the common mistakes all the teams that have played against Brazil at Egypt 2009 have made. The Brazilians have not spared any team which committed any of these mistakes. Let me go on and outline five of these:
 Brazil’s opponents have satisfied themselves with matching ‘Almighty Brazil’ boot-for-boot. In the end they get complacent, relax and wallow in their own delusions of grandeur. That is the point Brazil turns the style on. Except the England game, Ghana has been guilty of losing focus and allowing the opponents to get back at them. This attitude may prove costly in the finals.
 The Brazilians have had many opportunities to outwit and outrun their opponents on several occasions because they would rush into tackles and leave so much room for manoeuvre.
 The Seleção keeps naive central defenders as trophies. Throughout the tournament, naive central defensive pairs have gifted the Brazillians at least 10 goals. These defenders have not anticipated attacks; they have been out-run; they have set useless offside traps; they have allowed themselves to be split by unnecessary through balls; they have left at least one midfielder or attacker unmarked and permitted free headers.
Brazil have also appeared dangerous because none of the teams exploited their obvious weaknesses.
 While they enjoy running at the opponent and crossing with some accuracy, The Brazilians have handled crosses-to-the-head very poorly. Very few teams have exploited this option. I trust Ghana will. This is where Ghana’s wingbacks David Nii Addy and Samuel Inkoom come in. Between them the two wingers Ghana has benefit from 6 beautifully-crossed assists.
 Beyond crosses, Brazil’s goal keeper Rafael has looked terrible saving long range shots. In this tournament, no team has put him to test more than Ghana will. All of Ghana’s regular midfielders (Agyeman-Badu Emmanuel, Andre Dede Ayew, Opoku Agyeman, Abeiku Quansah) are proven shooters and will be expected to test Rafael.
In the end, two FIFA Cups will visit the Castle (Ghana’s seat of Government) this year – FIFA Youth Cup and the World Cup (which is passing through for exhibition on the 15th and 16th October 2009). Usually, when I preview these games, I clearly predict the scores. This one is tricky. But it appears to me there will be goals. Ghana will not score less than 3 goals. Indeed I will not be surprised if Ghana scores 4 goals in open play. The Brazilians may give Ghana a good show. They may handle the ball more than Ghana and turn on all their skills. But I do not see them scoring more than 2 goals. All Ghana needs to do is to refuse to make the Brazilian dangerous!
Good luck to Ghana! Bring the cup home!