Hello Chris (Chris Hughton),
A win really does a lot for you and now you see why I said in my previous piece that winning is all that matters.
In truth, the game against Angola was boring (tactically or maybe the pitch was not in the best condition) with Ghana also lacking incisiveness in front of goal but a win saves you unnecessary early scrutiny.
Don’t be too bothered, it is a Ghanaian thing to obsessively dissect our head coaches especially when the win column is unchecked.
You cannot blame us, we have won four AFCON trophies, not lost in Kumasi since 2000 and yes, we are one of the big boys on the African continent.
When Semenyo’s 96th-minute scrappy goal-mouth opportunity ended up in the net, I could tell the relief you felt as I looked at you from the touchline.
So yes, we will cut you some slack as we did Milovan Rajevac back in 2010 at the Africa Cup of Nations hosted in Angola where we went on one-goal projects until Egypt gave us a taste of our medicine in the final (that memory still hurts).
Here are my top observations from the side of the pitch at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium where I watched the game between Ghana and Angola.
The Fans Love Their Team
Based on reports and checks by Citi Sports, about 29,000 tickets were sold electronically for the game but the from where I stood and worked from, I dare say the stadium was full and saw people even standing just to catch a view of their beloved stars take on Angola.
From the Katanga Boys singing and chanting to the Conti Boys keeping up the energy, there was barely a dull moment as Ghana went on to claim a late win thanks to Bournemouth forward, Antoine Semenyo.
I first reported to the stadium as early as 7:00am and I saw some fans trying to buy their tickets and those who had not received their code after buying online trying to get it sorted it.
It was in this moment some fans of Patrick Kpozo decided to give us a display to show their support to the FC Sheriff left-back.
Showing love to Ghana’s new left-back, Patrick Kpozo who plays for Sheriff Tiraspol#CitiSports pic.twitter.com/S68KjsC8gE
— Citi Sports (@CitiSportsGHA) March 23, 2023
All love for the new boy, Patrick Kpozo 😍#CitiSports pic.twitter.com/rBBBUHmjdl
— EBO. (@Original_Ebo) March 23, 2023
In the stadium during the game, the atmosphere was buzzing throughout except for that 7th-minute silence that was observed in honour of the late Christian Atsu Twasam who lost his life tragically in a 7.8 earthquake in Turkey weeks ago.
You can only imagine how loud the roar in the stadium was when Antoine Semenyo latched unto a loose ball in the 6-yard box to give Ghana the win.
Even before the goal, every Tom, Dick and Harry kept chanting goal as Mohammed Kudus swung in a last-ditch cross after Joseph Paintsil was fouled.
Kumasi could sense a goal and they kept chanting “goal goal goal” until the ball finally hit the back of the net.
And oh boy, after the goal, it was a party, led by Thomas Partey who captained the side on the day.
The best line-up was picked
For context, Ghana’s final training session before the game had Schindler tested and from indication, he had a shot at starting at right-back after replacing Tariq Lamptey who missed out due to injury.
Also, Joseph Aidoo showed why he should’ve started but I understand why Hughton will make the last call to rather play Alexander Djiku and Daniel Amartey (they are familiar with each other’s game).
It was obvious to me that the new Ghana coach prefers Mohammed Kudus over Andre Ayew in the number 10 role and it came as a surprise to me that the Nottingham Forest player was not even on the team list.
With Salis Abdul Samed arriving last in camp and having just one training session, it made perfect sense to see Edmund Addo partner Thomas Partey and the pair had a good time complimenting each other’s strengths and covering the weaknesses very well.
Mohammed Kudus as a 10 made sense on paper and during the game because it gave him room to roam, pick spaces, attempt passes and become the creative engine of the side.
However, let us face the reality that he is not a number 10 and operating in that role is not the best way to use to get the best out of him. He is too quick, he has eyes for goals than picking passes and above all, he takes too much time on the ball.
All round, the team was properly balanced and it made sense why Chris Hughton picked those players specifically.
Bold Decision to Yank off Jordan Ayew
Before I speak about Jordan, let me detour and give props to his older brother, Andre who showed what leadership is all about by staying engaged with the team even when he wasn’t on the matchday team sheet.
After the game, the Black Stars head coach Chris Hughton said dropping Andre Dede Ayew from the starting unit in Ghana’s game against Angola forms part of the choices coaches make in their job.
This is the choice you have as a head coach. You know the quality that Andre has you also know the quality that I like to think the squad have…so these are very difficult decisions for me; certainly nothing to read into that. He is, has been and is still a very good player it was just my choice,” he said
From my observations on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, it was apparent the Crystal Palace player was the first name on Chris Hughton’s team.
There is a reason why no coach drops Jordan Ayew and that is, he works hard for the team.
He is smart, can pick a pass, can hold on to the ball, can win you fouls, can take on players, he is confident, he is in fact a dream player to have by any football manager.
He may not score, not really but his off ball movements and decision making and runs is so essential to the team, way too important to be dropped, I am afraid.
However, despite his importance to the team, Chris Hughton made the bold call to substitute him, which to me was the game changer.
We needed more life upfront and bringing in the pacey Joseph Paintsil to face Angola’s To Carneiro with 21 minutes to spare was one of the best decisions Hughton made on the day.
He was fouled twice, with the second winning us the game.
Great managers at every turn show their prowess by knowing exactly who to throw unto the pitch for what effect and the introduction of Paintsil was a great one.
The Big Three on the 69th-minute
Salis Abdul Samed, Antoine Semenyo and Joseph Paintsil came on for Edmund Addo, Inaki Williams and Jordan Ayew respectively and that won us the game.
Not for the obvious reason of Semenyo winning the game but these substitutions brought more stability in the midfield, and a different approach in attack.
Samed partnering Partey eased a lot of pressure on the Arsenal star and gave him more room to bomb forward every now and again to provide an outlet in attack.
Semenyo was a lot more direct but was a bit wasteful, missing two opportunities until he finally took his chance at the third time of asking.
Joseph Paintsil could’ve had a bigger impact but winning that late foul alone is credence to what he can bring to the team.
A Calm Chris Hughton
Not for moment did I see Chris Hughton panic on the touchline.
For every moment I took a glance at him, all I could see was an assured gaffer who knew the win would come regardless the situation.
I think that translated perfectly to the boys as they did not also panic.
These are subtle acts of mastery that come with having managed at the highest level in football. Football scenarios are repeated and in moments like that, the players count on the coach to help them navigate the tide.
The Black Stars of Ghana will depart Kumasi to Accra before flying to Luanda to honour the return leg of the AFCON qualifiers.
The last time Ghana played in Luanda, we beat Angola 1-0 in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations thanks to an Asamoah Gyan strike after a sumptuous Kwadwo Asamoah pass.