Podgorica! Thatâ€™s where the Ghanaâ€™s Black Stars play next.Â I bet you might be hearing about this city for the first time huh? Well, that is the capital of Montenegro, a breakaway state from what used to be Serbia and Montenegro. Thatâ€™s just about what some people know about Montenegro.
When it comes to football, there is practically nothing memorable, only that former football stars, Predrag Mijatovi? and Dejan Savi?evi?, were born there.
On the international scene, they are still infants; since acquiring full FIFA membership in 2007, this small nation with a population of about 700,000 is yet to qualify for any major tournament.
Its biggest stars are Manchester Cityâ€™s Stevan Joveti? and Juventusâ€™ Marko Vucinic, who unfortunately, is out injured and will not feature when the Black Stars engage Montenegro on March 5.
Podgorica, which in local Montenegrin means â€œunder the little hillâ€, will host this friendly. A little hill it might be, but I have big expectations of this encounter.
Yes, Montenegro might not be a fancy European side; may not have a huge pedigree, but I believe itâ€™s exactly the kind of friendly the Black Stars need.
The Black Stars will play without the pressure and tension associated with high profiled friendlies which gives them the latitude to smoothen rough edges e.g improve effectiveness on set pieces, build tactical and social cohesion as well as a winning momentum. These are my broad expectations, but I sure do have a couple of specifics.
Adams and Adam
No, thatâ€™s not a law firm, not in the least; I am referring to the two goalkeepers called up for friendly. I will expect Stephen Adams, from local side Aduana Stars, and Norway based Adam Kwarasey to share a half each for the 90 minutes duration.
Adam Kwarasey being the more experienced of the two, should start the game while Stephen Adams is eased in, for the second half.
Adam Kwarasey, who was displaced by Fatau Dauda as number one, actually enjoys a lot of sympathy amongst Ghanaian fans, that sympathy however has not blinded fans to his seeming unease and lack of confidence when he is in between the sticks for the Black Stars.
Granted he has not been given the game time to redeem himself and granted he may get just another 45 minutes in Podgorica, but in football, 45 minutes can do a whole lot. I expect that Kwarasey will show the confidence that his fans and even the technical team yearn to see. If he proves that,
for even half a game, he should be in good stead to reclaim his number one status from Fatau Dauda, who is not enjoying playing time with Orlando Pirates.
Yes, confidence is all it takes because Kwarasey has demonstrated enough technical ability, especially with his Norwegian team StrÃ¸msgodset, which he captained to win the 2013 Norwegian Championship and was named goalkeeper of the season in the process.
Then there is Stephen Adams; hero from the recently held Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) in South Africa. He was one of the stand outs for Ghana in the CHAN, a tournament reserved only for domestic players.
His call up came as no surprise and the technical handlers should go a step further to cap him even if it is for 45 minutes.
That way, Adams will have been tested at a standard high enough for him to prove himself. If he does, it will go a long way to counter claims that, the level of the CHAN might not have been a good enough standard to judge his readiness.
Once Adams and Kwarasey are able to hold their own, the team would have gained, in the knowledge that there will be increased competition should South African based duo Fatau Dauda and Daniel Adjei as well as Spain based Razak Brimah return. That both Adams and Kwarasey should share the 90 minutes cannot be over emphasized.
A Pattern Please
Yes, the Black Stars have won matches recently in emphatic fashion and qualified for the World Cup, making light work of Egypt in the final play off; its true the technical team have done well, but so far, we havenâ€™t seen a set pattern of play from the Black Stars; some of the results have been ground out due primarily to the good tactics on the day or the superior quality of the players.
Going into the World Cup, the Stars have about 3 games to practice before Ghana plays the first game against the USA on June 16. At the World Cup stage, opponents will be tougher, tactics will be shrewder, and it is my believe that, the earlier the Stars fashion out a set pattern to its strengths, the better it will be for the players to imbibe and execute it at the World Cup.
Clearly, the midfield is the Black Stars strongest point and with experienced holding midfielders like Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari; quick and hardworking wingers like Andre Ayew, Christian Atsu, Mubarak Wakaso and Albert Adomah, the Stars arenâ€™t out of options.
Itâ€™s basically how these star players are deployed and to which pattern that could make or unmake the Stars. The technical team could decide to have a compact midfield with an Agyemang-Badu or a Wakaso to complement either of Essien or Muntari to form a base and use the wings as an outlet.
Also, the Stars should find a way of using Kwadwo Asamoahâ€™s flair; either as a deep lying playmaker or from the wings to bolster the efforts of his mates. Whatever the Stars technical team decides, we should see a clear pattern; playing deep from the back, possessing the ball in midfield or breaking on the wings.
That is what friendlies afford you; an opportunity to tinker and try out new methods or consolidate old ones. Itâ€™s an expectation I have of the Stars, to be on top of their game, under the little hill. I know I will be watching, how about you?
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