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article imageRonaldo shines as Portugal edges battle of width against Ghana

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 26, 2014 in Sports
In a widely open match between two counterattacking sides, there was no surprise that all three goals were created in wide areas.
Oddly, the match was played at an indolent tempo, with Ghana straying away from the approach that was partially effective against Germany. James Kwesi Appiah’s men sat in two compact banks of four and pressed in midfield as a unit, forcing the German midfield into mistakes and preventing their creative players from exploiting space between the lines.
Ghana dominated possession in the opening half but they failed to consistently get behind the makeshift Portuguese back four. Miguel Veloso started the match at left-back, while Ruben Amorim and William Carvalho joined Joao Moutinho in midfield. Majeed Waris formed a strike duo with Asamoah Gyan in a 4-4-2, but an additional forward didn’t improve Ghana’s attack.
Harrison Afful and Christian Atsu attempted to replicate the USA approach and overload Veloso, but their quality from wide areas were mediocre. Likewise there was no variety in Gyan or Waris’ movement, as Pepe and Bruno Alves easily marked the two strikers out of the match. Ghana were at their utmost best when Atsu and Andre Ayew swapped flanks, as the former isolated Joao Pereira on two occasions to deliver a cross that Gyan glanced wide, and curled a shot inches wide of the net.
Ghana’s attack-minded approach left gaps of space vacant for Portugal to exploit on the break, but Paulo Bento’s men failed to punish Appiah’s men. In fairness, Portugal was never in control of the match in the first half, which was odd considering their 3v2 advantage in midfield. Veloso would’ve served as a better option in the single-pivot against the Ghanaians as Waris wasn’t instructed to press William, and he was free to play passes out of his third. Veloso’s creativity from deep would be beneficial, whereas majority of William’s passes were conservative, and his defensive duties were scarce in the first half.
With William serving as the spare man in a deeper role, Mohammed Rabiu and Emmanuel Badiu canceled out Moutinho and Amorim, and vice-versa. The fullbacks, however, were the main creative outlets throughout the match. Veloso’s cross from the left-flank led to John Boye directing the ball into his own net to hand Portugal the lead.
Prior to the opening goal, both keepers were called into action with Cristiano Ronaldo nodding Pereira’s cross directly at Fatau Dauda from six-yards out, while Gyan latched onto Afful’s lofted ball, before shrugging off Pepe and firing his shot at Beto.
Ghana's productivity in wide areas vastly improved at the start of the second half, as Ayew’s movement into central areas created space in the left channel for his teammates to penetrate. Appiah’s men equalizer stemmed from this area as Ayew and Asamoah combined on the break following the latter intercepting Moutinho’s pass, and Gyan nodded his sublime cross passed Beto. Gyan equally varied his positioning in the second half as he drifted into the space to fire a shot wide of the net, and delivered a cross that Waris skewed wide.
Bento reacted to Ghana’s mounting pressure by introducing Silvestre Varela and moving to a 4-4-2, while Jordan Ayew replaced Waris as Appiah reverted into a 4-2-3-1. Jordan handed Ghana the numerical advantage in midfield and Ghana received chances to break on the counter but their wretched decision-making and final ball halted their attack.
Still, Ronaldo was the most proactive player on the pitch –– firing six of his eight shots on target –– and he steered Portugal into the lead following Dauda and Jonathan Mensah failing to clear Nani’s cross. Ghana’s defence couldn’t cope with Ronaldo’s movement and he popped into key areas on three occasions, but Dauda prevented the talisman from increasing his goal tally.
“Coming into this game our plan was to make sure to get a win, no matter what Germany and the US did, even if they drew,” Appiah said.
“It was unfortunate that we could not get a win. At this level, once you lose a little concentration, you will be killed for it, and that was our unfortunate situation.”
Appiah’s decision to stray away from his reactive approach was odd –– considering Ghana is best suited to play on the counterattack –– and although Portugal’s goals stemmed from defensive errors, there were too many holes in midfield that Ronaldo exposed throughout the match.
"We created a lot of opportunities and we deserved to win by a bigger margin which would have given us a chance to qualify," Bento said.
"In the second and third game we gave a different image of what we are worth than in our first."
Ronaldo will rue his missed opportunities, but Portugal struggled to create chances throughout the entire tournament. Apart from the talisman’s brilliance in the dying moments against the USA, Portugal’s goals stemmed from defensive mistakes, whereas injuries and suspensions decreased Bento’s side’s chances of progressing out of the group.
It was surprising to see unnatural fullbacks create the opening two goals, and it was undoubtedly clear that defensive mistakes and Portugal edging the battle in wide areas made the difference.
More about Ronaldo, Portugal, Ghana, Fifa world cup, World Cup
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