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Strike Anywhere – Ghana v. Uruguay Preview

GHANA – URUGUAY

“Strike Anywhere”

Preview

July 2nd, 2010

Soccer City, South Africa

Seemingly one of the more underwhelming Quarterfinals, the Ghana – Uruguay game has as much potential excitement etched

Gyan will need to be on point to get Ghana through to the Semi's.

into it as any of the other ties.  Both sides overcame the odds to make it here, advanced out of very tough groups and are not to be underestimated, as so many have and paid for it.  Just like every Quarterfinal, a clear cut winner is anything but certain, and this will be a game of inches.  The winner will be the one who takes advantage of their chances in front of goal and defends as a unit.

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The only remaining African team will be hoping to have the crowd behind them as they take on 1 of 4 South American teams at Soccer City on Saturday.  It must be bittersweet for Michael Essien to have to watch this game from the sidelines, but he will be bursting with pride at his countrymen’s efforts so far.  Plus, he will probably still be a member of the 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil and he will be doing everything possible to make sure he’s fit for it.

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The Ghanaians have an injury scare with star striker Asamoah Gyan, whose stunning winner against the United States saw them to the Quarterfinals, picked up an ankle injury.  Despite this, he is still expected to play, and the Elephants will be desperate for him to be fit.  His goal against the Yanks in the first knockout round will have him brimming with confidence and he will be giving the Uruguayan back line some trying moments.  However the South Americans are prepared for that threat with Martín Cáceres (Barcelona) and Captain Diego Lugano (Fenerbahçe) anchoring the back four.

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With a powerful midfield, Ghana will be looking to flex the muscle of Kevin Prince-Boateng, Andre Ayew and Anthony Annan.  Sulley Muntari might be called into action to try and throw a wrench in the gears of the Uruguayan midfield’s attacking moves. What Ghana forces teams to do with their busy midfield of 5 players, is play the long ball over the top to try and cut out the African’s middle men.  The problem is that the Ghanaian team is tailor made for such tactics as we saw in the United States game and they are content to out muscle the opposing strikers, let their midfield claim possession and knock the ball around for a few minutes.  The problem with this game is that they are facing two red hot strikers in Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan.

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Uruguay didn’t surprise too many by advancing from their tough group, so don’t expect them to roll over and die for a very talented

Diego Forlan: Too hot for Group A. And too hot for his jersey apparently.

and young African squad.  The South Americans’ biggest asset is their strike force of Suarez and Forlan, and they will be looking to utilize that as much as possible, especially on their right side of the field where Hans Sarpei (the oldest member of an incredibly young squad) will be playing.  The 34 year old is capable but looks weary towards the end of games and will be prime for punishment when the game gets down to the grind.  If Ghana are ahead at 80 minutes, expect the South Americans to channel their attacking drive towards Sarpei, or at least until Milovan Rajevac, the Serbian manager, replaces him which he is wont to do.

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If Uruguay tries to play how Ghana want them to, then expect the African side to advance to an unprecedented first ever Semifinal appearance.  However, coach Óscar Tabárez has been around the block a few times and will be wary of how Ghana intend to play this game.  Edinson Cavani and Alvaro Pereira hold down the midfield with Diego Perez and won’t be susceptible as the Americans in midfield, especially if Tabárez opts to play the gritty Nicolás Lodeiro alongside them.  He’s small but he’s physical, which could be exactly what they need to overcome the hustle and bustle of the Ghana midfield.  If both he and Muntari play, it will be an interesting match and not a question of who will win the physical battle but who will receive a red card first?

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Ghana has allowed a goal in every one of their games except their opener, whereas Uruguay has only conceded a single goal and shut out all of Group A.

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Both sides can win this game and both know it full well.  Uruguay has more experience, but Ghana has more energy and the homefield backing.  The midfield will toil, but this game will be made in the striking department.  You only get a few clear chances a game, and the winner will be the one who can capitalize on theirs.

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Prediction

Uruguay  1 – 0  Ghana – though, extra time is not out of the question.

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Sub Prediction

Diego Forlan will at some point be shirtless.

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Deja Vu
The United States Mens National Team fell 2-1 to Ghana for the second time in as many World Cups, only this time around, they broke our hearts in extra time.  This time, they couldn’t blame the referee.  But this time can only blame one man, Coach Bob Bradley.
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Yep, I said it.  Just what the hell was he thinking starting Ricardo Clark?  If any of you read the site regularly (unlikely, but hey, I’m an optimist) you know that I downright despise Ricardo Clark.  Now can you see why?  When I saw his name on the team sheet, I turned to my fellow Americans and said, “Clark could lose us this game.”  His attempt to step past Anthony Annan, resulted in Kevin Prince-Boatengs goal from outside the area.  Granted, Tim Howard was poorly positioned, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.

Gyan celebrates his fantastic strike in extra time.

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Four years of Football Fandom is out the window, because Bob Bradley tried to tamper with the winning formula.  Why?  What would compel you to change the side that beat Algeria, that tied Slovenia, that could have beat Ghana?  In the only game Edu and Bradley started next to each other, the Yanks not only didn’t allow an early goal, they kept a clean sheet!  The Robbie Findley inclusion didn’t flip my lid either, but experimenting up front is much different than experimenting in the middle, especially when we were finally clicking.  Bradley’s only saving grace was his humility.  He had the guts to say, “Ok, I was wrong” and put Edu into the game.  Immediately, the United States started clicking.
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Another thing, why the long ball tactics?  I thought after the first 30 tries at trying to play a long ball in, we would give up and try to outpass them.  Nope.  Just keep thumpin’ it in there.  Eventually, one of their center backs will just let us walk on in.  We clearly showed that when we built up from the back, we had some beautiful passing movements – notably at the beginning of the second half.  We flowed seamlessly into the Ghanaian third and really put them under pressure.  And I know they were tired.  Who wouldn’t be? Honestly.  I cannot fault them in the slightest for being tired.  But you know who I can?  Bob Bradley.  If he hadn’t started Clark, we wouldn’t have been down a goal and a substitution.  Ghana used their substitutions late and they ran us out of it eventually.  What if we could have put Holden in on the wing?  Onyewu in for the tired Bornstein?  It just hurts how much sense it makes and how little Bradley had with this game.
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If we had started the game with Maurice Edu in the middle and got shalacked, fine.  I’ll take that.  It’s just such a bitter pill to go out to the same team that ousted the United States in an identical score line 4 years ago, when we had such a great chance to win.  They didn’t even have Michael Essien and bossed the midfield.

A dejected United States fan's eyes say it all.

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The first half of the game was absolutely abysmal from the United States, and the biggest game changing substitution had to be Benny Feilhaber.  He’s quick, clever and a concise passer.  Almost immediately, he brought an edge to the game that was previously absent as he nearly got on the score sheet.  You only get a few chances like that a game, and, time and time again, you have to finish them.
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Parting shot, the Ghanaians really didn’t show great gamesmanship in their winner here just like they didn’t in 2006.  They flopped like fish out of water and dramatically called for a stretcher every time there was contact.  Look at Clint Dempsey!  He gets treated like he’s in The Octagon every time he’s on the field.  What does he do?  He spits out blood and goes for theirs.
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Be a man.  Get up, stand up, stay up.
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It’s hard to blame one man for the loss, so I’ll blame two.  Bob Bradley and Ricardo Clark…but mostly Bob.  He could have prevented the whole thing in thefirst place.  Clark not only shouldn’t be starting, he should not be on the roster.  Who should? Maybe Freddy Adu.
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There are a lot more things I would like to say.  But I won’t.  Because, if you’ve read this far, you can read between the lines too.  This hurts.  A lot.  My emotional output before, during and after the game could power a small country.
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Bob Bradley just cost me 4 years of football fandom.  Such is life.
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Until next time...



Coin Flip For Saturday

The United States’s victory over Algeria was historic, and, if you are a United States fan, won’t be forgotten if you were watching it.  However, it is time for the Yanks faithful to snap out of it, because very shortly, they face a physical and dangerous Ghana side that would very much like to knock them out of the competition for the second World Cup running.

Bad blood will be flowing when the teams take the field on Saturday.  Their last meeting ended with a 2-1 Ghanian victory won off of a dubious penalty kick “committed” by Oguchi Onyewu.  Clint Dempsey scored the only goal by a United States player in Germany, and will be looking to find the scoresheet again as he typically does in big time games.  However, this time around, we are looking at a different Ghana side as well as a different United States side.

Brian McBride (L), Oguchi Onyweu (C) and Clint Dempsey (R) react to Ghana's penalty in Germany.

Six players from the United States will be present Saturday that were four years ago: Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley.  If Onyewu is fit, he should be a sure thing to start, despite the fact that the defense played well against Algeria without “Gooch’s” help.  And other than DaMarcus Beasley, every one of them should start on Saturday.

Returning for the Black Stars is Stephen Appiah (the man of the match in ’06), ‘keeper Richard Kingson and John Paintsil.  Kingson is usually very consistent for Ghana, as is Paintsil, and unlocking their defense will be quite the task for the Americans.

So what are the keys for beating Ghana?

1.  Win the midfield – Ghana plays a 4-5-1, which means that the midfield will be crowded for Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu/Jose Torres/Ricardo Clark.  They are physical and technically adept, so it won’t be a walk around for the coach’s son, who, so far, has been many peoples’ player of the tournament for the United States.  Also, Benny Feilhaber put in a good show as a substitute against Algeria and may feature on the left hand side, with Donovan on the right and Dempsey moving up top (but we reckon this will happen later in the game rather than from the get-go).  Bradley is key in snuffing out attacks and starting new ones, if he can find his feet early in the game, impose himself on Kevin Prince-Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah, it could mean a win for the Yanks.

Asamoah Gyan will likely be a handful for the back line as he has been all tournament.

2. Steady Defense – Oguchi Onyewu may be key to the keeping another clean sheet against Ghana, even though he wasn’t even part of the back line that did against Algeria, don’t be entirely shocked if Bradley keeps the same back four.  However, you can count on “Gooch” wanting blood in this game, as it was he who allegedly fouled Pimpong for the spot kick in 2006.  Surprisingly, Jonathon Bornstein didn’t look too bad in the last game, but, if he plays, he will be faced with more adept opponents in Anthony Annan and Prince Tagoe, both of whom are capable of skinning the haphazard left back.  Jay Demerit was a veritable rock against Algeria, and he will be key to overcoming the threat of Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s primary hitman.  If he and Onyewu can form a steady partnership, they can neutralize his potent attacking skill.  One option for Bradley, is playing Bocanegra in the middle of the back line, because he knows Gyan better than anybody on the American team, as they are team mates at Rennes.

3. Key Performances From Big Players – Notably Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.  I know what you’re thinking.  Well, obviously they need to have big games in order to beat Ghana, but they are more key for this game than ever.  Jozy will have a very daunting task sizing up against the physically tough John Mensah, the heart of the Black Stars’ defense.  John Paintsil is no slouch either, as the Fulham man holds his own against most clever wingers and strikers than run at him.  He is fast and defensively resolute.  Clint Dempsey will likely be deployed on the right for the start of the game, and, depending on the situation, could be moved up front.  His opposite number could be Andre Ayew or Kevin Prince-Boateng, depending on how manager Milovan Rajevac chooses to line up.  Donovan is key, as always, as he is part

Clint Dempsey celebrates his equalizer against Ghana in 2006.

of nearly every move towards goal and it will be paramount that he has a great game if the United States wants to get on the score sheet.

It’s a sizable task, but both teams will walk onto the field Saturday confident of a win.  Despite the fact that Ghana is without their talisman Michael Essien, they still have a great deal of menace and will assuredly cause trouble going forward and snuffing out attacks.  The United States have nearly everybody fit, and the lineup on Saturday should include Maurice Edu, but the striker position is still a wild card as Bradley has toyed with his options quite a bit.

Either way, the game will have plenty of chances, drama and history.  This game is a coin flip. Question is: heads or tails?



No Ballack. No Essien. Group D is an Open Book

Group D –

Germany

Ghana

Serbia

Australia

Group D will be one of the most entertaining groups, as each team is fully capable of advancing out of the group to the knockout round.  Powerhouse Germany will be favored to take the top spot, however a devastating injury to their talisman, Michael Ballack, could shake things up.  There are some fantastic players scattered throughout the group, several world class at that, and it will be a treat to see it unfold.

Australia – The Socceroo’s are bringing in one of their most talented squads in some time.  After narrowly missing out on a

The Everton midfielder will go for the knockout blow in South Africa.

chance to advance to the Quarterfinals in Germany, the Aussies will be hell bent on avenging their unjust ousting four years ago to a certain diving Italian.  Lead by the industrious midfield maestro Tim Cahill and anchored down by a defensive trio of Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and keeper Mark Shwarzer, Australia has every chance of advancing.  If they play a resolute defensive game, look to abuse their physicality  and ability to score off of set pieces, we could see a very open group.  Harry Kewell is a very talented who has been bogged down by injuries, but is now fully fit and itching to rebound on the international stage.  Be wary, though, Kewell hasn’t performed well on the big stage for a good deal of time.

Serbia – The Serbs are a loaded gun.  They have talent in about every area of the pitch, but not just in the players you hear about every day.  Yes, they have one of the best defenders in the world in Nemanja Vidic, also Branislav Ivanovic and seasoned veteran Dejan Stankovic to lead the team forward.  However, sleepers like Milan Jovanovic, Neven Subotic, and Milos Krasic could well be the standout performers for the Serbians.  Their biggest problem is their striking department.  The giant Nicola Zigic (6’8”) will no doubt be the target on their set pieces, which they perform quite well.  Whether Zigic performs or not, Serbia has dynamic wingers in Zoran Tosic, Krasic and Jovanovich that will wreak havoc on defenses in Group D.  They’ll also be desperate to make up for past performances on the international level.  But their attacking play could be a refreshing sight in South Africa.

Ghana – As I write, Michael Essien has just been ruled out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with injury.  A horribly devastating blow to a side who were hoping to build on their 2006 World Cup success.  That said, the Black Stars still pack a punch with a strong midfield (with or without Essien), a moderately firm back line, and good options going forward.  Sulley Muntari is now the biggest name on the team sheet, as the Internazionale midfielder will look to bring the team together in the absence of their fallen star.  Asamoah Gyan, the Rennes hitman, will be looked to for goals as will Muntari, who netted two goals in their qualifying run.  Adding more experience to their back line is John Paintsil, who is coming off a highly successful Europa League run with Fulham and will be on a high.  Verdict for the Black Stars?  Down, but definitely not out.

Germany – Die Mannschaft (“The Team”) will be looking to fill the hole left by Michael Ballack, much like Ghana but with

Shweinsteiger will look to emulate his form from 2006.

better options.  Whatever tournament they enter, Germany will always be a contender.  Their squad depth, abundance of skill and experience will make them a card carrying member in South Africa this summer.  Despite some flimsy draws against Finland and a few wins grinded out at home, the Germans were still undefeated in their qualifying campaign.  Miroslav check in with seven goals, the most on the team (Podolski – 6, Ballack – 4, Shweinsteiger – 3).  Germany will pound lesser opponents and their stingy defense will provide any attacking threat with something to think about, but up against formidable opposition could send Germany reeling.  Their physicality at the back and technical ability up front is the blueprint for a perfect team.  Players like Bastien Shweinsteiger will provide Die Mannschaft with the creativity and killer pass/cross in South Africa and is the type of player who will thrive there and become a standout performer.  Another player that should be on your radar is Mesut Ozil, a dynamic attacking midfield of Turkish descent who plies his trade at Werder Bremen.  Ozil is the cutting edge players who knows how to split open defenses with his clever passes and foot skills.  Expect the Germans to topple lesser sides, but they could look suspect in the latter stages of the tournament as their bench is quite barren.

Prediction –

1.  Germany

2. Australia

3. Ghana

4. Serbia