Ghana is on the verge of securing a spot in next year’s World Cup as they comfortably cruised past Egypt.
James Appiah aligned his side in a 4-2-3-1 with Abdul Majeed Waris leading the line. Kwadwo Asamoah, Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew formed an attacking three behind the Ghanaian striker, while Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari played in the double pivot.
Bob Bradley opted to play in a 4-3-3 that saw Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Salah and Walid Soliman led the attacking line. Hossam Ghaly, Hossam Ashour and Mohamed El-Nenny form a midfield trio.
Ghana’s combination of power and pace upfront, along with clinical finishing led to an impressive performance from Appiah’s men.
Ghana starts well
For all the pre-match talk heading into this two-legged affair, this tie was supposed to be fairly even. Yet, Ghana’s brilliant start – led by Gyan and Waris – was integral towards their success in the first half.
Despite spurning two early chances, Waris and Gyan combined exceptionally throughout the match – and it resulted in Ghana’s opener, as Waris played in Gyan, who surged forward and produced a magnificent finish past Sherif Ekramy. More so, Waris and Gyan ran the channels well providing a balance of brute strength and pace, which pulled the Egyptian back line out of position. In particular, Gyan played his role to a tee – the prolific Ghanaian striker held up the play, won aerial duels, and linked play with his teammates.
Meanwhile, Waris’ pace proved to be a handful for Bradley’s men. The Ghanaian attacker was first to every ball in the channel – and like Gyan, his link up play was also impressive. Waris nearly created a second for Asamoah, but Ekramy saved the Juventus attacker’s shot.
There were multiple factors that led to Ghana’s terrific start, but Gyan and Waris’ ability to stretch the Egyptian backline and consistently combine in the final third was pivotal to their success.
Nevertheless, for all of Ghana’s brilliance going forward, it would be difficult to ignore Egypt’s poor shape without the ball. Frankly, it would be impossible not to blame Bradley for his side’s work ethic when Appiah’s men were in possession. Only Salah and Soliman attempted to press Ghana’s fullbacks – thus preventing them from pushing forward.
However, Bradley’s men were unbalanced, and looked uncertain of their tactical duties. It was odd to see a side possessing a numerical advantage in midfield, not attempt to take control of the match – as they constantly often dropped off Muntari and Essien, allowing them to guide Ghana forward and control central areas. Secondly, the gap between midfield and defence was wide, and there was far too much space between each member of the midfield trio. Waris and Gyan freely dropped into these pockets of space to link play, where as Ayew and Essien exposed it on the buildup to their second goal.
Bradley’s midfield looked confused, while his defence couldn’t cope with the movement of Waris and Gyan. Egypt’s organization in wide areas makes the lethargic display in central areas even more absurd – yet, Bradley’s unbalanced shape was a key component to Ghana’s success in the first half.
There were positive feats in Egypt’s performance, after Ghana’s dominant opening, and it was down to Bradley highlighting a deficiency in his opponent’s attack. While Appiah’s men pushed forward, Egypt struggled to string passes together due to Ghana’s constant press – thus forcing them to find an outlet on the counter.
Soliman drifted centrally when his teammates won possession, allowing Ahmed Shedid to attack the space behind Ayew, as he failed to track back. While Shedid got into advanced positions, Samuel Inkoom – who played fairly narrow – made great recovery runs and nullified attacks from the left flank.
Bradley was aware of this, and instructed Salah and Soliman to swap flanks, rather than making any significant alterations to his midfield. This was a logical move because Salah was unable to display his fine trickery and pace on the right side, as it was congested. The Basel attacker was now the main outlet for counter attacks, which shifted the match in Egypt’s favour.
Salah used his pace to win a foul that handed Rashid Sumaila a yellow card, and minutes later Sumaila fouled the Egyptian winger in the box, resulting in a Egyptian penalty. Aboutrika stepped up to the spot, and coolly slotted the ball into the right corner, earning Egypt – at the time – a valuable away goal.
The swap shifted the tide of the match and Egypt solemnly settled, but even Salah’s threat on the break couldn’t prevent Ghana from taking advantage of Bradley’s disorganized back line.
Another feat in Ghana’s terrific display was their dominance on set pieces. In the 16th minute, Essien received space to deliver a precious ball to Waris, but a fantastic Ekramy save denied the Ghanaian striker a goal. Coincidentally, Egypt received their best chance of the match – prior to the goal – from a set piece when Mohamed Naguib nodded Aboutrika’s free kick over the bar from five yards out.
However, like Essien, Muntari provided the cross that led to Waris’ goal, which restored Ghana’s two-goal lead towards the end of the first half. And it was Muntari that was involved in Gyan’s second goal of the night, which put the match out of sight. Bradley’s men failed to clear a cross from the right flank and the Milan midfielder’s acrobatic scissor kick bounced towards Gyan, who nodded the ball into the net from four yards out.
In fairness, while Appiah does possess a side that would fancy set piece opportunities, the defending from Bradley’s men was appalling. Egypt lacked a balanced shape without the ball and they were vulnerable when defending set pieces for large portions of the match.
Bradley altered his side’s shape in the second half, as they became a 3-5-2. Shikabala replaced Shedid, pushing Soliman to a left wingback position. Ahmed Elmohamady was introduced towards the end of the first half and he operated in a right wingback position.
The decision to go 3-5-2 was logical as there was now a link between midfield and attack – considering Bradley’s midfield trio struggled to penetrate from deeper positions. But with Soliman and Elmohamady aiming to get into advanced positions, an already feeble Egyptian back line risked being exposed if they committed to many men forward.
Egypt improved slightly – from an attacking sense – in the second half, but they failed to make the most of the half chances they created. Aboutrika dropped deep to link play when Shikabala wasn’t available in the final third, but Egypt still struggled to sustain possession, despite their attempt to half-heartedly press the Ghanaians.
But the second half was solely about Ghana – as Egyptian heads lowered and their midfield dropped deeper, Appiah’s men continued to assert their dominance and express themselves in a professional manner. Muntari scored from the spot, and substitute Christian Atsu added a fine long-range goal in the final minutes of the match.
In brief, the second half was straight-forward – Bradley made a logical offensive tactical change, but they didn’t address the issues they experienced in the opening 45 minutes, thus leading to a Ghanaian onslaught.
The movement from Waris and Gyan was pivotal to Ghana’s success, but Bradley’s tactical naivety led to Egypt’s downfall. The Egyptian backline was abysmal, and their inability to nullify Muntari and Essien allowed Ghana to dictate the tempo of the match.
Bradley’s tenure as Egyptian manager has been successful, but World Cup qualification was always required, and they will need a miracle to mount a comeback of that nature.
“It’s nearly impossible because the situation we’ve put ourselves in is a very difficult one. We know. We feel this,” Bradley said.
But today should be about Ghana – they’ll come across tougher opposition in Brazil, but the result was well-deserved and the performance provided a great moment for their supporters, as the Black Stars will head into the World Cup full of confidence.