For the first time in three attempts, Sellas Tetteh has been kicked out before the quarter final of a Fifa-organized tournament.
His Satellites team were soundly beaten 3-0 by Mali in Wellington in their round of 16 game, and Tetteh did not waste any time in applauding the preparation of his opponents.
“Mali were the better team today. You’re always going to lose a match where every 50/50 ball lands at the feet of your opposition,” he said in his post match comments.
And that’s exactly what happened from the get go. Mali dominated possession and knew what to do with the ball at almost every turn.
The goals came in both halves – one in the first and two in the second – but it was not the fact that Mali scored against Ghana as much as how the goals went in.
Confidently. Classily. And with fluidity, to the dismay of the well-travelled Ghana boss.
1. Real recognize real
“First of all I’d like to congratulate my fellow coach from Mali and his team, who deserved their place in the quarter-finals today, but of course I’m also extremely disappointed. We simply didn’t settle into our game, and in the last third in particular we just lacked ideas and creativity”.
Mali scored three goals, but the stats show that they had 17 shots, with eight at goal. Ghana were greatly limited, which shows in the seven shots the Satellites recorded. Just four were at goal.
Ghana had topped their group with seven points, while Mali had barely sneaked into this stage after losing out of a casting of lots to Uruguay.
The Young Eagles only made it this far because they were one of the best third placed teams. But if Ghana looked at these before getting on to the pitch at the Regional Stadium, they were given a rude shock.
“We also made too many unnecessary mistakes in our build-up play, and our opponents severely punished us for that,” Sellas noted of his opponents who were faster, stronger and sharper.
The inquest will analyse every move of this Ghana team in every detail, but it must be clear that Mali were superior in almost every respect.
And to be fair, they worked hard for it, as coach Fanyeri Diarra said post game: “We were extremely well prepared to face Ghana today and did exactly what we set out to do.”
So, question: why couldn’t the Satellites match the Malians?
2. Satellites struggled against technical opposition
Because Mali came better prepared, and crucially, they had the personel to execute their coach’s every whim.
Fanyeri said: “My team kept things very compact and we delivered a great performance. The players in this squad are able to put my tactical ideas into practice, so I’m very happy about that and delighted that we’ve made the quarter-finals.”
And he should be.
But for Ghana, it brings back a worrying trend as seen against Austria and Argentina in the group stages: the Satellites technical setup struggled to match very good opposition benches. Sellas is proven at this level, but perhaps he needs to freshen up on trends.
3. Satellites did not have enough depth?
Coaches can put in the best systems, but when players also have an off day, plans can be shot to pieces. Ghana simply did not turn up.
And another crucial element was the skill level. Man to man, perhaps only Ghana keeper Lawrence Ati Zigi and Yaw Yeboah shone in bursts. Bar these three, Mali – with the possible exception of Adama Traore, outdid themselves.
BA United’s Patrick Asmah (pictured below v Panama) was missed at left back as his replacement, Patrick Kpozo (Inter Allies) was floored constantly.
It takes us back to initial unease about the depth of Sellas’ squad? There will always be questions about which player did not merit a callup, and that’s where Sellas must take some blame.
Had he succeeded, he’d be hailed and now that his team have crashed, Sellas’ gutsy decision to drop talents such as Divine Narh (NAC Breda) or the widely acclaimed Stephen Anokye Badu – who was phenomenal in Senegal earlier this year – would come back to haunt him.
Or maybe, like coach Emmanuel Kwesi Afranie told Asempa FM after the game, the Satellites had become a wee bit complacent?
“I had said before this game that concentration and focus was the key. Watching the game, I feel our boys perhaps took Mali for granted a bit especially as they’d faced them twice before.”
That is very doubtful, for Sellas Tetteh is notoriously consistent is motivating his players to achieve more. More than anyone, he has seen the benefits of excelling at this level, and it would be surprising if he had not impressed these emotions upon his boys.
5. Mentally stronger?
Another school of thought came from the team’s managment committee chairman, Wilfried Osei Palmer.
“We lost to a better team. But at a point our boys were a bit down after going down 1-0 at halftime. And going forward maybe we should consider having psychologists not only for the Black Stars, but for all the national teams.”
Bottom line is for a Satellites side that had some of the best preps ever given to a U-20 setup prior to a World Cup, a loss at this point is hugely hurting to the national psyche.
Joy Sports Benedict Owusu has seen this team more than many journalists, as he covered them at the African U-20 Championships in Senegal a few months ago. He had predicted that the Young Eagles will beat Ghana immediately the round of 16 games were confirmed.
“Because I had seen them in person, I know what they are capable of. And as everyone knows, although Nigeria eventually won the championships in Senegal, I always thought Mali were the best team in the tournament – and I’m not surprised this has happened.”
6. Attobrah is massively overrated
He has been called everything from the next this to the next that. And it is hard to see the hype around Ghana’s number 11. He’s made a career of being very good against average opposition in the local top flight.
But, without excpetion, any time he has been called into national teams, Asiedu Attobrah (pictured below) has hardly shone. His favorite excuse is to say he plays according to insstruction, which mostly limits his playmaking abilities.
That’s really not true.
At the 2014 CHAN where Ghana placed second, he was nowhere near the top five players the Maxwell Konadu-led team produced. And in the African U-20 Championships in Senegal this year, he was similarly quiet.
His gifted feet, fast pace and eye for goal seem to vanish with each big stage. Time to drop him and try another enterprising talent.
7. Key areas to improve
It may sound blasé, but simple actions such as passing, running into space and communication were problematic themes for the team in all four games.
Finishing, a perennial Ghanaian problem at all age levels, has been discussed at length and must be improved.
And, for this team in particular, leadership was an issue. Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, who made his name by scoring the winning penalty for the victorious 2009 team that won the U-20 World Cup, agrees.
“I watched the game and it qucikly became clear that they don’t have a leader like we had in Dede Ayew. They did not have someone to direct them on the field and move them when they were down.”
8. How does the team move on?
This is easily the best Mali youth team since the vaunted side led by Seydou Keita, and it is important to put this Ghana loss in perspective.
The better side won, just as Tetteh said.
But it offers Ghana a great opportunity to keep this current group whose core was inherited from the U-17 team that failed to get past the group stages of the 2013 African Championships in Morocco.
Had that Black Starlets team been disbanded, Sellas wouldn’t have had a base to build on. It is important to keep this team as successors to the current Olympic and Black Stars teams.
If the national psyche agrees that this U-20 team is a developmental side, then the worry that Sellas’ team did not make the last four – as he had promised – is justified.
But the focus should be on getting a next Kingson, or better, out of ‘keeper Lawrence Ati Zigi. And a next Kwadwo Asamoah out of Kwadwo Asamoah, or better. Or a next Michael Essien out of Godfred Donsah.
What’s done is done. Can the team move on to the next level – and quickly?
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garyalsmith
Story by Ghana/Joy Sports/Gary Al-Smith
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