There is little gain in saying that the Dutch did what was expected of them when they outplayed, outclassed, outthought and outrun the Black Stars in their friendly game on June 1, 2010.
By walloping Ghana 4-1 at home, Holland has successfully sounded the right alarm bells in Ghana’s camp. In cutting Ghana to size, they have awakened most Ghanaians from their delusions of grandeur, forcing them to take another look at their semi-final hopes.
It is in this spirit of introspection that I take a second look at the performance Milovan Rajevac’s preferred defensive strategy and its accompanying 4-2-3-1 tactic. It is a fact that in 2010 Ghana has not beaten any quality opposition with this defensive outlook. So, given this evidence and Milovan’s unwillingness to change his strategy, the question is, does Ghana have a realistic chance at South Africa?
In practice, there is nothing wrong with a defensive approach if a coach knows what he is about. I agree with Robert Green when he says in his book, 33 Strategies of Warfare that “…to fight in a defensive manner is not a sign of weakness. It is the height of strategic wisdom”. Of course football history is littered with many successful defensive teams. Greece at Euro 2004, Italy at Germany 2006, and Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan of 2009/2010 are typical examples.
Of course, when a team (like the Black Stars) is so much limited by aging, inactive and just average players, there is no wiser option than a laid back approach and hitting the opponent unawares…and what better tactic than a 4-2-3-1?
Very few tactics offers the amount flexibility the 4-2-3-1 allows. When executed well, the 4-2-3-1 is an absolute winner. Therein lies Ghana’s problem – a terrible execution of a perfect tactic. Perhaps Ghana can learn a few 4-2-3-1 tricks from Holland who played the system so perfectly when they whitewashed Ghana 4-1 on June 1, 2010.
The basic idea is to place an offensive pressure on the opponent (with 4 forwards) while preventing them from attacking (with up to 8 defenders; 2 wingers, 2 defensive midfielders and 4 defenders). To do this, the team must win tackles, keep the ball, place pressure on the opponent and split the defence only when and where it matters (with wing play and through balls). The goals come naturally.
If it is this simple, where did it go wrong for Ghana? Obviously a combination of tactical confusion and lack of fit and able players continues to be Ghana’s Achilles tendon. Tactical clarity requires a bit of time and practice. If Ghana’s FA organizes one or two low profile games in South Africa after the Ghana-Latvia game, I suppose the problem of tactical clarity will be tackled.
Now the real headache lies in whether the players in camp can execute the 4-2-3-1 tactic. In reality, one cannot expect aging players who have spent an entire season injured, on the bench and or playing in amateur leagues around the world to perfect a system which requires quick, sharp, skilful and fit players overnight. The lads cannot do beyond their best.
So as it stands now, one will just have to hope and pray for luck. The last time I checked, Milovan had the world title of ‘LUCK at tournaments’. There is no doubt however that the Black stars will do their best at South Africa and we can maybe PLUCK this LUCK. All hope is not lost, we still have our luck, I believe!