Key Battles That Will Shape Ghana's Clash with Germany
Germany meet Ghana on Saturday in Fortaleza with both teams seeking the same outcome on the day but with varying consequences.
Having been defeated by the United States in their opening match, following a late goal from defender John Brooks, the Black Stars are on the brink of elimination. With Germany and Portugal to come, the prognosis doesn’t look good, and the West Africans will be desperate to avoid a second consecutive defeat.
For Germany, however, a victory would represent expert navigation of an exceptionally difficult group. They dazzled against Portugal and will seek to seal qualification against the Black Stars.
These are the tactical battles that will shape the meeting between Joachim Low and Kwesi Appiah’s sides.
Exposing Benedikt Hoewedes
The left-back position has long been a problem one for Germany, even before Marcel Schmelzer’s fitness concerns ruled him out of the tournament.
Benedikt Hoewedes is a very competent centre-back, but he has looked awkward at left-back and remains the team’s weak link.
If Ghana are to get anything out of this match, it may be that targeting Hoewedes represents their best approach.
Fortunately, the Black Stars have the qualities to do this. Jordan Ayew and Christian Atsu are both mobile, sometimes-lethal forwards who can do damage in wide areas. The former struggled to build on his hat-trick performance against South Korea and was substituted against the United States.
Atsu often looks more comfortable on the left and is best when given liberty to beat his full-back and send crosses into the box with his dangerous left foot.
On the right, however, against Hoewedes, Atsu might be a lethal weapon, able to cut inside and trouble the German defence by shooting on his left.
Germany’s Offensive Trio vs. the Centre-Backs
As they did against Portugal, expect Germany to come out of the blocks with speed, tenacity and intention in Fortaleza.
Their offensive trio of Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil and Mario Goetze will persistently seek space with intelligent lateral movement and incisive passing.
The Black Stars will need to be at their absolute best to combat such a dangerous triad.
John Boye and Jonathan Mensah are both fine stoppers, but neither man is particularly comfortable on the ground or when faced with pace ahead or behind them. Expect Ghana, therefore, to sit deep, and don’t be surprised to see Mohammed Rabiu take a defensive role ahead of the centre-backs, anchoring the midfield and protecting Boye and Mensah.
The Ligue 1-based pair will need to be at their absolute best to keep the Black Stars tight at the back and avoid the kind of savaging that Portugal endured.
Utilising Kwadwo Asamoah
One of the great frustrations of the Black Stars’ recent performances have been the poor utilisation of Kwadwo Asamoah.
The Juventus man is arguably Ghana’s best player and one man who can inspire the side and drive them forward from the heart of the pitch. His versatility, however, means that Kwesi Appiah has seen fit to play him at left-back.
Asamoah is a strong left-back, but from this position he cannot impose himself on the match as he would be able to from the centre.
Ideally, Appiah would switch Asamoah into the midfield and build the team around him. Failing this, however, the left-back might still have the chance to thrive.
Germany’s formation against Portugal saw Mesut Ozil, nominally the right-sided attacking midfielder, constantly pull in to the middle of the pitch. If he does this against Ghana, and if Jerome Boateng also looks to press forward, then Asamoah will have space ahead of him in which to operate.
This is space he wouldn’t be afforded in the middle of the park. Is the stage set for Kojo?
Brother vs. Brother
While not a tactical battle per se, the (second) World Cup meeting of brothers Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng will likely steal a fair chunk of the attention ahead of the upcoming Group G match.
With Jerome operating at right-back and Prince likely to function through the middle, the pair aren’t likely to be direct combatants.
What the reunion may prompt, however, is a special showing from the elder brother, Prince.
He came on during the second half of Ghana’s defeat to the United States and had a transformative effect on the side, speeding up the tempo of the midfield, spreading the play to the flanks and bringing in the team’s more dangerous players.
Should Prince start, particularly against his brother and the land of his birth, he will be supremely motivated to deliver a star showing and provide a bedrock for Ghana’s offensive unit.
Shape Up at Set Pieces
Ghana were undone by a late corner from the United States, as John Brooks profited from some sloppy Black Stars marking. The towering centre-back raced in ahead of John Boye to head it home past Adam Kwarasey.
Ghana cannot afford to be similarly lax against the Germans.
Joachim Low’s side have also demonstrated their ability to take advantage from set pieces. Their second goal against Portugal came from a corner, as Mats Hummels made the most of Portugal’s zonal marking system to double his side’s advantage.
The Black Stars must learn both from their own experiences against the States and from Hummels’ menace against Portugal and protect themselves from set pieces.
An inability to impress with corners and free kicks—both offensively and defensively—has been a theme of Africa’s World Cup performance so far. Ivory Coast conceded from a corner versus Colombia, and this is a worrying trend that Ghana will need to stop against Germany.