Going through the eye of the needle to the second round the Ghana way

After Serbia defeated Germany, Group D was thrown wide open, fans the Black Stars all over the world expected Ghana to walk over the Socceroos to set one foot in the second round of the World Cup.  From the Massaley Hotel in Bamako where I was, the mood among the international guests was one of ‘we feeling and solidarity’. Many Malians had placed their hopes on Ghana to make Africa proud.

But Pim Verbeek’s men will not go down easily. Even without veterans Vinnie Grella and Tim Cahill and playing with 10 men, the Australians put up a spirited fight to tie the game at 1-1. The team lacked ideas in front of goal, the defence was just shameful and the midfielders were just terrible.

With a nation’s utopian expectation dashed and  a  continent’s hopes deferred, the time was ripe for football mathematicians to pick up their calculators. Numerous probability trajectories have already been put out there predicting how Ghana will or will not qualify to the next round of the World Cup.

The weak in heart seem to have already given up on Ghana even though Ghana stands as leaders of Group D. Their worry is quite easy to appreciate; the Black Stars must win against Germany and pray that the Serbia-Australia game favours Ghana. In reality, a win against Germany is difficult to predict while a favourable outcome from the Australia-Serbia game is out of Ghana’s control. Being the fans they are, many have understandably already resorted to pouring their frustration on Milovan Rajevac and his players.

Group D was always going to be a tough group. Even if Ghana had trounced Australia, it would not have guaranteed a second round berth, as Serbia may beat Australia and Germany may beat Ghana in the last round of games and all three teams will amass 6 points only to be separated by more mathematics. Hence, winning against Australia will not have will not changed Ghana’s chances. It will thus be unfair for fans to pour their frustration on the poor players.

To me, Ghana did what was right by not losing. In a post game interview, young winger Andre Ayew made clear the team’s objectives: Not to lose. What is important for Ghana now is how to overcome the German challenge with either a draw (which Ghana would have needed even if they beat Australia) or a win .

Team Ghana will go into the game with a number of difficulties. Isaac Vorsah is reported to have torn a ligament and John Paintsil has picked up a face injury. Ghana has still not scored from open play in 180 minutes and has managed only 2 in the last 360 minutes of A-rated games. If Rajevac can find a solution to this scoring problem and organize the defence well,  Ghana can fly over the German hurdle. A draw is all what is needed.

The German challenge is itself not as daunting as it appears. They have their strengths, but they are beatable. They may come out with guns blazing, making full use of their explosive wingers and the skilful players who drop into the hole in defensive midfield. But any casual observer will not fail to observe that theirs defensive line cannot withstand speedsters and ball jugglers.


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