/ 30 November 2022

To achieve poetic justice, Ghana must emulate Uruguay’s nasty edge

So what's the best plan for Ghana? Go big or go home is a crude strategy but it seems to be working for various rebel nations at this World Cup.

Ghana’s coach Otto Addo says he doesn’t want revenge against Uruguay and Luis Suarez. That’s very noble of him but I do — and I’m not even Ghanaian.

Addo can take the high road all he likes but there’s more beef in Friday’s showdown than in the entire Uruguayan cattle sector. The Black Stars and La Celeste (the most inappropriately innocuous team nickname in world football) will be slugging it out for a place in the knockout rounds — and that means the Ghanaians have a shot at healing the wound left by Suarez’s handball heist at the 2010 World Cup.

Yes, it’s not rational to vilify Suarez for slapping away a goalbound shot when standing on the goalline in injury time, thus copping a red card that proved richly worthwhile when Asamoah Gyan slammed the ensuing penalty against the crossbar. But I don’t care. This is the World Cup. It’s not rational. It’s war in shorts. Common sense is on leave.

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The big riddle Addo has to solve before Friday is how his troops can “outstreet” a nation of masterful streetfighters. Uruguay’s distinctive football spirit is known as garra charrúa – literally “the claws of the Charrua” (the Charrua were the country’s indigenous nation, destroyed by Spanish colonists). It is usually defined as passion, grit, commitment. But that’s the sanitised version; there is a dark seam of dirtiness woven into the fabric of garra charrúa. It’s understandable: when you are a tiny football country squashed between the bum of Brazil and the armpit of Argentina, you can’t afford to play nice.

On balance, both Ghana and Uruguay are less imposing outfits than they were back in 2010. For the South Americans, Suarez and Edinson Cavani are both waning forces, while Darwin Nunez is rump steak to Diego Forlan’s fillet.

That said, Uruguay’s coach Diego Alonso will deploy in Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur a central midfield axis of world-class power and sophistication. Ghana’s masterful pivot Thomas Partey is a match for either of those counterparts, but his fellow deep midfielder Salis Abdul Samed, a 22-year-old employed by French minnows Lens, is not. And there is yet more vulnerability out wide, where the fullbacks Gideon Mensah and Tariq Lamptey are equally young and raw.

As a result, hogging the ball is going to be hard for Addo’s men. Ghana’s triumph over the Koreans came despite them enduring long spells on the back foot — with only the offensive brilliance of Jordan Ayew and Mohammed Kudus compensating for that persistent deficit of control.

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So what’s the best plan for Ghana? Go big or go home is a crude strategy but it seems to be working for various rebel nations at this World Cup. The Saudis and the Japanese slew the Argentinians and the Germans by playing an insolently high line and rattling the aristocrats by driving forward at almost every opportunity. The only worry is that Uruguay are better than the giants at playing efficiently without the ball; they had the dregs of possession against Portugal but competed fiercely nonetheless — they were undone only by shoddy finishing. So, they will not be fazed by a gung-ho Black Stars approach, knowing they have all the tools to profit on the break.

We can be sure that the effervescent Kudus and the crafty Ayew brothers will hold the keys again. In attacking terms, Ghana have struck a promising seam of confidence and penetration. By scoring five times in only two outings to date, they have already matched the total they scored in their entire run to the 2010 quarterfinals. They do have technical shortcomings, particularly at the back, but chaos can be a wonderful leveller.

A dash of vengeful nastiness wouldn’t hurt either — especially when injury time sets in and the risk-reward ratio changes. It’s time for the Black Stars to clap back.