Ghana – Uruguay: Too Little, Too Late (0-2)
The tables would turn against the villain of the 2010 World Cup if not for a minor miracle. Luis Suárez duly stole the show, downing the Ghanaians in an inspired collective performance. But fate would dole out an even more painful punishment by the final whistle to oust both nations.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Memories of the 2010 World Cup have not faded from the Ghanaian consciousness. On the cusp of breaking a historic barrier on behalf of the African continent, they fell foul of foul play from Luis Suárez. His handball denied a surefire quarter-final winner; his gamesmanship reinforced a wall no African nation has since broken. As the Uruguayan seeks to make his final bow on the global stage, could the Ghanaians avenge that defeat and break his heart? The odds were in their favor to do so.
Ghana’s thrilling 3-2 win over South Korea earned them their first points of the competition. If they avoided defeat, their prospects of bettering their last run at the World Cup, a group stage exit in 2014, were high. On the other hand, the Uruguayans had picked up a meager point. Following a 2-0 defeat to Portugal, they urgently yearned for a victory— and a performance to accompany such an outcome.
Off the back of a 3-2 loss to the Portuguese, in which he deployed a 5-3-2 structure, Otto Addo went for a back four. Hence, he again sent out his men in a 4-2-3-1 shape. The Ghanaian manager swapped both of his fullbacks. Baba Rahman and Alidu Seidu replaced Gideon Mensah and Tariq Lamptey. Ahead of them, Salis Abdul Samed joined Thomas Partey in the midfield. André and Jordan Ayew took to the field on the left of Iñaki Williams, and Mohamed Kudus operated as the central forward.
Diego Alonso switched his choice of system, picking a 4-4-2 formation in place of a 5-3-2 block. Diego Godín dropped to the bench, so Sebastián Coates was next to José Giménez at the center of the defense. In the middle of the park, Matías Vecino made way for Giorgian de Arrascaeta, who was to the left of the double pivot of Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde. Facundo Pellistri flanked the pair to their right, and Suárez came in for Edinson Cavani as part of the front two with Darwin Núñez.
Uruguay come out of their shell
A primary problem troubling the Uruguayans centered on their work against the ball. In their goalless stalemate with South Korea, they sat off in a reserved 4-1-4-1 block, giving the double pivot space and time to shift the ball from the base of the midfield. In the same way, they bunkered in against the Portuguese, giving up very little in the first half without showing many indications of life themselves.
10th minute: pressing sequence from Uruguay. Núñez lurks near Abdul Samed, encouraging Ati-Zigi to turn away from the right flank, where Seidu could have been an outlet to escape the high pressure. Valverde jumps forward to close down the goalkeeper, while instructing Bentancur to sit off behind him. De Arrascaeta and Pellistri pull inwards, offering central cover. Giménez then moves out of the chain at the back, winning an aerial duel against Jordan Ayew to turn over the possession of the ball.
The contrast in the opening stages of this contest was stark. They attacked the Ghanaians more aggressively from the front. Abdul Samed or Partey tended to rotate between the center-backs, who fanned wide to build up the play from the back to form a platform of three men. Correspondingly, a member of the double pivot moved out from the base of the midfield to support the defensive efforts of the front two. The deployment of a diamond and a far more front-footed attitude set the tone for their display. However, after around a quarter of an hour, their opponents almost drew first blood.
The momentum killer
Kudus was at the heart of the danger. Noticing the movement of André Ayew toward the touchline that dragged Bentancur to the ball, he dropped into the middle of the park. Coates followed him, but the forward swiveled away from his marker and set away Williams on the right flank. Eventually, he entered the penalty area, pursuing the rebound from Jordan Ayew’s parried strike. Sergio Rochet’s untimely dive handed Ghana a penalty, echoing 2010. But it would not be their day. The goalkeeper remedied his error, palming off André Ayew’s effort from twelve yards. And worst was soon to come.
Valverde and Ayew harassed Jordan Ayew off the ball, handing Núñez an opportunity to make headway on the right wing. Neither of the Ghanaian defenders inside the box dealt with his delivery, allowing Suárez to pounce. He chopped to the inside Seidu, then forced a save from Lawrence Ati-Zigi. However, the goalkeeper palmed the shot to his left, where de Arrascaeta stooped to nod the ball home into an empty net. Uruguay’s first goal of this World Cup had arrived at an opportune moment.
De Arrascaeta continues to shine
It was apt de Arrascaeta scored the goal. Indeed, he was central to solving the other Uruguayan pitfall at this World Cup. Alonso’s men turned to a direct approach in their opening fixtures, knocking long punts to their forwards and relying on gaining second balls. On the other hand, the 4-4-2 system from the second half against the Portuguese was far more creative. It was the blueprint for the offense here.
Bentancur was the deeper member of the double pivot, giving Valverde the license to roam higher up the pitch. Núñez moved along the last line, and Suárez dropped off into pockets between the lines, especially in the left halfspace. But at the heart of it all were the roles of the two wide midfielders. De Arrascaeta’s profile as a more press resistant, combinatorial attacking midfielder helped his team find more joy in the halfspaces. Pellistri’s balance, speed, and ball carrying from the right flank offered a different threat to his teammate but served a similar end. The second goal was a perfect case in point.
Valverde drilled the ball through the Ghanaian midfield into the path of Pellistri. The right winger, standing in the halfspace, pivoted inwards, dribbled away from André Ayew, and chipped a pass to Núñez. The striker flicked the ball into the path of his partner Suárez, whose cunning lob teed up de Arrascaeta. His teammate rifled a volley into the back of the net, doubling his tally on the night.
Suárez gets his comeuppance
Addo’s men now required two goals in less than an hour to reclaim second place in the group. At half time, the manager made a double substitution. Both Ayew brothers came off. Kamaldeen Sulemana entered the fray on the left of the attack, Osman Bukari operated on the right, and Kudus moved into the central attacking midfield slot behind Williams. The Ghanaians continued to probe, sending their fullbacks into the final third to support, but the stubbornness of Uruguay’s rearguard came to the fore. Not even Kudus, who continued to twist and turn away from markers, could find the back of the net.
Uruguay had all but sealed a victory, but the drama had not ended on the night. South Korea turned around a goal deficit at the death to beat Portugal 2-1. Suddenly, Alonso’s men were now level with South Korea on points and direly needed a third goal to progress. In injury time, substitute Cavani raced onto a through ball from Valverde and drew contact from Seidu in the box. Neither the referee nor VAR awarded a penalty. A forlorn Suárez broke down in tears at full time: justice restored.
HEARTBREAK FOR LUIS SUAREZ 💔 pic.twitter.com/ghFpv5KlAx— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 2, 2022
The Uruguayans are unfortunate to crash out of the World Cup thanks to the unforeseen victory of South Korea. Yet, that outcome is perhaps fitting for a nation too slow to find their rhythm. Meek defensive displays and a lack of invention on the ball held them back in their first two outings. Their failure to win two group stage fixtures for the first time since 2002 has also produced their worst performance at the tournament in 20 years. Godín, Suárez, and Cavani will not feature again on the global stage, but Alonso must reap the lessons of this cruel elimination as he leads a new generation.
Ghana’s exit marked the end of Addo’s tenure in the dugout. He has resigned from the managerial post, intent on returning to Borussia Dortmund to work as a ‘talent coach.’ To concede the high ground at the final hurdle and miss out on the Round of 16 will be a frustrating note to end this stint: it is now the second time in 2022 that the Black Stars have bowed out of the group stage of an international tournament. Promising showings and talents must now be a foundation for growth for his successor.
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