The Black Stars of Ghana will take on the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the final Round of 16 game of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations on Monday. Both teams, like Nigeria, have not exactly set the tournament on fire: Tunisia went on a spree of draws, scored only two goals, and managed to qualify with the least number of points by a team that finished 2nd in the group. Ghana had to squeeze out a win against Guinea-Bissau, and also finished with the least number of points by a team that topped a group. But at the Ismaila Stadium on Monday, one of them will need to do better. Here is an assessment of the two teams:
The Ghanaians tend to doze in defense. Case in point, the two goals they conceded against Benin. The Black Stars were a goal down before they realized the game had started. The Squirrels simply ran at them, found the highway to goal, and took it. The second Benin goal was no less comical: with John Boye sent off for an avoidable infraction, the Stars may be excused for losing focus; but not so much as to allows Benin set up and score from a corner kick…again waltzing through a dozy defense that didn’t realize the kick had been taken.
Against Cameroon, it was the same story: Clifton Njie took a lofted pass from a free kick and snuck behind the defense while the Black Stars were again, still organizing
The slow back line also meant that every team Ghana have played against, have managed to create chances against them, and even Guinea Bissau – the team they defeated 2-0, could have taken the lead before and even after the Black Stars scored. Against (any) North African team, this could be suicidal. They will not only create chances, they will bait the defense into conceding penalties. And that can only be disastrous for the Black Stars, especially if they found the net first.
Luckily for the Black Stars, the Carthage Eagles are like them: they are also dozy at the back. The Tunisians make basic errors in defense and look vulnerable when under attack. Their problem is compounded by the fact that:
The Tunisians have a goalkeeping problem. The first goalkeeper they fielded at the tournament, Farouk Ben Mustapha, spilled a shot he should have easily handled, to gift Angola the equalizer. Alain Giresse promptly dropped him. Mouez Hassen took his place in goal for the second game against Mali, and put on a show more horrid: he clawed at thin air when a free kick came directly at him, and then spilled a corner kick with no one challenging, to hand Mali the lead. He kept his place against Mauritania, and managed a clean sheet. But it remains to be seen whether the Frenchman will keep faith with him against the Black Stars.
What both teams have in common however, is that they are both exciting (but wasteful) going forward. The Ghanaian pair of Dede and Jordan Ayew have proved to be better players for the national team, and have looked dangerous with Christian Atsu running the wing and Mubarak Wakaso prompting the forwards.
The Tunisians also regain some fluidity once they get past the halfway line into the final third, and actually look decent. Then, there is the constant dead ball threat of their captain Wahbi Khazri. He came close on a couple of occasions, and finally got a goal against Mali.
The advantage looks to be with the Black Stars though; the shaky goalkeeper situation of Tunisia means that the bubbly Ghanaian attack will have something to look forward to…if only they can get (most of) their shots on target. Tunisia will create chances, but Ghana have the upper hand.