Ghana arrived in the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a bourgeoning pedigree. On Friday, one could see why the Black Starlets are among the favourites for this tournament. On a sultry day at an unevenly filled Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Ghana demonstrated its best gifts.
Although the scoreline suggested otherwise, the manner of victory was comfortable. There could have been more goals but at no point did Ghana look threatened. There were to be no heartburns in this 1-0 win.
Paa Kwesi Fabin’s boys gather much attention for their pace and attacking intent but it was the defence which stood out for the coach. And why not! Colombia is certainly no lightweight and yet it could barely fashion a phase of sustained pressure.
Orlando Restrepo, the Colombian head coach, fielded a 4-2-3-1 setup which featured two deep centre-backs. This left plenty of space in front of the defenders especially in wide pockets as the full-backs pushed up. Ghana had a more fluid formation, even though their system was a nominal 4-4-2. As space emerged between the lines, one found the Ghanaians exploiting them with glee.
The first big chance went Colombia’s way but Leandro Campaz’s insistence to trust his left foot meant his shot from a tight angle was saved. Yet, it was an odd moment of delight for the Colombians as it was Ghana who held sway. A tactical switch midway through the half brought the decisive outcome.
Sadiq Ibrahim moved to the right flank while striker Eric Ayiah began to drop towards the left. With Aminu Mohammed essentially playing as a roving forward, suddenly Colombia were not sure about their marking duties. By the time the confusion was resolved, Ghana was a goal ahead.
Ibrahim had headed over from close range only minutes before he swept home Ayiah’s penetrating ball across the face of the goal. The strike brought to light everything that makes this Ghana side tick – pace, quick thinking and a desire to impose their will over the proceedings.
Once the lead was secured, Fabin’s boys went into lockdown mode for the rest of the half. Colombia recognised their inferiority and wide forward Deiber Caicedo was introduced for the second period, with playmaker Bryan Gomez making way. This saw Yadir Meneses move into a central position while left-footed Campaz was now on the right flank.
Yet, Ghana reigned supreme. Particularly on their left side as full-back Rashid Al Hassan and Emmanuel Toku combined expertly to constantly threaten the opposition. With a goal looking unlikely, Restrepo turned to his first-choice striker Santiago Barrero to replace Deyman Cortes.
But Barrero, who did not start because of his recent recovery from a knee injury, began hobbling soon. The injury limited his movement; he missed a chance from close range as he could not power the shot home. Colombia’s frustrations were compounded minutes later as Caicedo came closest to scoring when he found himself free in the box thanks to a delightful through ball from Yadir Meneses. The shot, however, slipped narrowly wide from the post.
In fact, it was Ghana who never really lost their edge. Aminu Mohammed, recently linked with a transfer to Manchester City, went on one of his blistering runs on the left flank but his shot was parried away. It was a measure of the Ghanaian’s superior fitness that his piercing interventions did not stop even late into the game. The hot day was having an effect on the Colombians alone.
After the game, Restrepo was adamant that it was the Ghanaians’ efficiency which won the day. He thought Colombia had more chances but, quite understandably, his counterpart did not agree. The numbers also support the Ghanian head coach Fabin. Ghana had six shots on target to Colombia’s three, while the Black Starlets also lead the total shots count 17 to 15.
It of course did not help the Colombians’ cause that three of their players picked up injuries or knocks on Friday – Barrero, Etilso Martinez and Juan Vidal. The underwhelming attacking display and the potential unavailability of his favoured offensive players leaves Restrepo with a few headaches.
As for Ghanaians, they gave nobody any reason to doubt their credentials as potential group winners. Before the tournament, Fabin had mentioned that he had a stronger squad at his disposal now since some players were unavailable during the under-17 Africa Cup of Nations. For example, goal scorer Sadiq Ibrahim was indisposed as he was on a tour of Denmark with the Right to Dream Academy.
With players like Ibrahim, Aminu and Al Hassan, Ghana has rich resources in wide areas. It will not be easy to break the Black Starlets down either. The next group match versus the USA promises to be exciting as it will pit the Americans’ bounteous attacking resources against a sturdy defence. It will be a massive test for the Ghanaians.
But if Ghana passes the examination with three points, qualification will be secured. From the evidence presented on Friday, that remains a distinct possibility.
Updated Date: Oct 07, 2017 13:02 PM