Coming into the World Cup, all the talk for the US National Team was the exclusion of all-time leading World Cup scorer, Landon Donovan.
Many felt that even if he weren’t going to be awarded a starting berth, his experience off the bench and in training would be effective on getting the best out of the players, in what would be his last ever World Cup.
For Ghana, it was a case of avenging their quarter-final defeat from the previous edition. They would have to start off against the Americans who they’ve defeated twice in the last two World Cups, knocking them out of the competition.
Expectations were high for both sides, and given Portugal’s defeat earlier to Germany, these two sides knew they could take a massive step at progress from the first-round with a win at Estadio das Dunas.
Formation & Line-Ups
Ghana (4-2-3-1): Kwarasey, Boye, Mensah, Opare, Asamoah, Rabiu (Essien 71?), Muntari, Atsu (Adomah 78?), A.Ayew, J.Ayew (Boateng 59?), Gyan
USA (4-1-2-1-2): Howard, Cameron, Besler (Brooks 45?), Johnson, Beasley, Beckerman, Bedoya (Zusi 77?), Jones, Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore (Johansson 23?)
Scorers: Dempsey 1?, A.Ayew 82?, Brooks 86?
The US midfield set-up important from a defensive view-point
Personally, i’m not a big fan of the centralised diamond; the liabilities it creates and the gaps it can provide for the opposition to exploit are far more disastrous than the positives of it. But it can be important defensively, if used in the right manner.
Klinsmann set his side up with Beckerman the deepest player, Michael Bradley ahead of him with Bedoya & Jones on either side of the diamond. But the clever thing with this set-up was the use of Bradley in particular. Although sanctioned at the top of the diamond, he wasn’t essentially just playing an attacking midfielders role with the idea of connecting with the forward, but instead he was seen dropping deeper, swamping places with Beckerman in that central role. We’ve seen how teams start off attacks from the back with their deepest playmaker moving in between the two central defenders and starting play from there (Barcelona, Spain, France, Liverpool etc); but what the US did here was rather than just one of the usual deep players (Beckerman) dropping deep, they alternated attacks with Bradley too doing this duty.
This essentially allowed Bradley to be free of any potential marking in an attacking zone, also easing up the pressure that Beckerman may come under when collecting the ball from his defenders. Bradley’s role also allowed him to defend from the front, though to a lesser degree with Ghana’s play going down the flanks more often than not.
But a crucial part of that midfield set-up was the role played by the two wide men of the diamond, Bedoya & Jones. Either through the efforts of Bradley & Beckerman or their own approach, Ghana were utilising the wings more than the central zone, this meant that the wide midfielders had a crucial role to play in a defensive capacity. The likes of Andre Ayew & Atsu can get difficult to play against with their quick footworj and insistence on dribbling forward with the ball at their feet. This defensive work was taken further forward with rather than them sitting back and attempting to prevent Ghana attacks. Their defensive display started off from an attacking zone, pressing from the front and winning the ball back. A crucial, though unspectacular role, played by the midfield.
American defence put in a shift after pressure following the opening exchanges
As tactical analysts usually do, the opening 10-15 minutes or so are not taken into considerations when compiling a detailed post-match analysis of any game, so the writer can usually afford himself a little time and ease at the start before concentrating on the display. Personally I was guilty of this too, and Clint Dempsey had his say about it! A quick attack in the opening 30-40 seconds saw Dempsey put the Americans up and set them off to a perfect start, the 5th fastest goal in World Cup history and a clear early message to doubters of the USMNT to not believe in them at your own peril. Lacklustre defending from Ghana allowing the US captain to score the first.
But that’s as easy as it got for the US with Ghana bucking up and attempting to take control of the game. While the attack was one-dimensional at the start (more on that later) and most of the attacking pressure was created in the second half, Klinsmann’s men were coming under a lot of pressure. The US midfield had to put a shift in, while their defence had to be on their toes. As they were.
The centre back pairing of Besler & Cameron were immense in ensuring the Ghanaians didn’t find a way through. They were helped by the professional organisations they displayed and mature performance. They held their line well and developed a good understanding as to when one moves forward how the other covers for him. Their partnership at the back pulled off. They were forced into 22 clearances between them and although that breathes of desperate defending, it was anything but. John Anthony Brooks came in and played the same role, as effectively.
Ghana threatening in attack, but wasteful
Although the US got off to a lightning start and took all three points late on, it wasn’t easy for them. The midfielders as mentioned did do a remarkable job, as did the full-backs who are usually more contributing in attack but were forced to defend throughout in this game. Most of the Ghanaian attacking was being created down the flanks with Christian Atsu particularly more lethal than Andre Ayew on the other side, though the Ghana goal came from this left-hand side, one of the most well worked goals this World Cup I might add.
The Africans created numerous chances and had almost nothing through the centre, preferring to play it into these wide areas. The US defence was organised, but every now and again a player found himself in free space, notably Jordan Ayew & Asamoah Gyan but failed to take their chances. In a World Cup, at this stage, in a game you’d expect yourself to win to stand any chance of progress, they were wasteful.
Ghana produced 38 crosses throughout the game as the illustration above shows, compared to the US who produced just 8 (ofcourse they weren’t essentially looking to do so). Right approach by Appiah to make use of the wings, wrong to think that one avenue of attack will be sufficient. Ghana will need to be more dynamic than one dimensional in what is looking a difficult qualification scenario already.
KEY PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Personally, and others may disagree with this, but I was left fascinated by the display put in by Bedoya & Jones in midfield. As mentioned, not a big fan of the diamond but their display was up to the mark which I can appreciate. They provided cover for their full-backs brilliantly, they were pressing the Ghanaians in advanced areas out wide while doing enough to ensure their only avenue of attack wasn’t more fruitful. Bedoya & Jones take the key players(s) award for me, it would be unfair to pick one over the other.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM?
Not much was expected of the Americans but you could see Klinsmann had a clear plan in mind. Progressing from the group would be possible only with a win against Ghana and the US will now fancy themselves against the Portuguese as well.
For Ghana, it doesn’t look good. A match awaits next against Germany, losing which (a realistic possibility), their hopes of qualification will be all but over. For both these sides, a win in this fixture was vital, and the US have emerged on top.
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By: Sami Faizullah