Ghana, Other African Nations Lacking Final Third Quality to Impact on World Cup

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Ghana, Other African Nations Lacking Final Third Quality to Impact on World Cup
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Ghana suffered a late 2-1 defeat to United States in their 2014 FIFA World Cup opener on Monday evening, making it just one win so far from the three African nations to play their initial fixtures.

While Ivory Coast did well to come back and record a 2-1 win over Japan in Group C, Cameroon were poor in defeat to Mexico, Nigeria drew 0-0 with Iran and USA were arguably deserved winners overall against Ghana, despite the African side having more possession.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

That latter match followed the pattern so far that has seen African sides enjoy possession in different stages of their games but then really showing a lack of organisation or invention in the final third to make the most of their pressure.

Algeria, it should be noted, have not yet played their opening game and face a tough task in opening against Belgium in Group H on Tuesday.

Ghana enjoyed 62 percent of possession against United States, as per WhoScored.com, but until the last 20 minutes or so of the match—when Kevin-Prince Boateng entered and looked to dictate play a little—they achieved very, very little with the ball in the final third.

Constantly, the ball was fed wide to the likes of Christian Atsu, who invariably dribbled infield and looked to whip in a cross, which either overhit or was aimless, or else curl a shot into the far corner—off target four times on the night.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Christian Atsu was lively and exciting, but lacked any kind of end product to his work

It has been a familiar story for their neighbours.

Nigeria controlled play against Iran—a whopping 70 percent of possession, via WhoScored—but were entirely without invention or tempo in their game, sending over pointless crosses, overhitting passes out of play and never looking like they were breaking the defensive lines.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Ivory Coast, for all their domination of play against Japan, for a long time looked as though they would fail to break down their opponents. Most of their dangerous attacks came from the right wing, supplied by Serge Aurier, who attempted seven crosses during the game, claiming two assists in quick succession.

Nobody attempted a single through pass, and the same can be said for Nigeria and Cameroon in their matches.

In every case, possession was not made the most of by intelligent ball use or proactive running. Hopeful balls into the area, aimless recycling and storyline shooting have instead been the recurrent themes.

Nigeria's 70 percent possession yielded four shots on target.

Ghana's 62 percent, just three.

Ivory Coast's 58 percent, as per WhoScored, only five.

While it is encouraging for the African teams to see their players enjoy so much of the ball, they have to have better plans going forward. Patterns of play or positional interchanging through movement around the penalty area seem almost non-existent compared to the fluid motion of Germany or the functional, rapid transitions of Netherlands.

Christophe Ena/Associated Press
Germany's one-touch passing and movement gave Portugal significant problems

These might be big European nations with big players, but if the emphasis and hopes are for African nations to reach the quarter-finals and beyond with regularity, these are the teams they must aspire to emulate.

At this stage, they look a million miles off.

Ivory Coast look like the only African side with a hope of progressing past the group stages, and even that is far from certain.

Ghana made it to the last eight in 2010, but the 2014 event in Brazil is not likely to witness a repeat performance from any of Africa's contingent unless their composure and creativity in the final third show a significant improvement from the first week.

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