As Jordan took the long walk from the rear of the South Korea goal to Ghana’s bench, he received raucous applause from the buoyant Ghanaian supporters in that section of the stadium.
Collectively, productive days like this have been and few between the Ayew brothers in recent years but here they were, getting the fans back on their side and being given their flowers after helping the Black Stars earn their first win of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
An action-packed K-Drama.
That is exactly what Ghana and South Korea delivered when they locked horns in the crucial Group H fixture at the Education City Stadium on Monday.
Having both failed to win their opening games – Ghana lost to Portugal while Korea drew with Uruguay – this was a must-win for either side. In the end, there were five goals scored, several brilliant individual displays, great goalkeeping and an overall end-to-end exhibition that FIFA’s social media page dubbed “another game of the tournament contender.”
Just as they did against Portugal, Ghana made a slow start in their 3-2 victory over Korea. The Taegeuk Warriors completely dominated the opening 20 minutes, playing on the front foot and pushing for openings as the Black Stars sat deep and tried to settle.
All that dominance, though, didn’t yield any clear-cut chances for the Asians and, once Ghana settled, it became a real match for the rest of the first half. Otto Addo’s team selection, which had Jordan, Tariq Lamptey and Gideon Mensah returning to the starting line-up, as well as a switch to a back-four, was indicative of an attacking strategy.
But that game plan could only be executed with the full involvement of three players – Abdul Salis Samed, Thomas Partey and Mohammed Kudus.
Samed and Partey went about their jobs nicely, one progressing the ball and the other breaking the lines. Both avoided the fancy stuff but it was an efficient performance from the pair, who ensured Korea created nothing from the middle of the park and had to resort to using the flanks as the main channel of attack.
Kudus, though, was the star of the show. The Ajax midfielder took some time to settle but once he did, his every touch and every pass could be felt. His two goals – the first a glancing header and the second a curler that turned out to be the match-winner – were the perfect rewards for his impressive outing against the Asians.
Even better, the 22-year-old was adjudged the man of the match. But he wasn’t the only standout player for Ghana in the game against the Taegeuk Warriors. Goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi was also in imperious form, making a series of saves to protect Ghana’s lead.
Then there is the Ayews. Some have said it was a moment of redemption but was simply a day that everything came together for them. Neither Andre nor Jordan scored, but both shone against Korea, with Jordan providing the crucial assist for Mohammed Salisu’s opening goal and Andre covering every blade of grass and leading by example.
On paper, Ghana’s defence remains the team’s greatest strength in terms of quality and depth and, although it hasn’t come together yet for Daniel Amartey, Alexander Djiku and Salisu who have conceded four goals in two games, there is enough evidence to prove they will click into gear sooner rather than later.
Inaki Williams started his third straight game for Ghana and once again struggled to get into goal-scoring positions. He may not have scored but he still showed flashes of his brilliance by continuously trying to take on his markers and creating space for his teammates with his brilliant runs. He never stopped trying, which is a good thing; a sign of a player who still oozes confidence despite desperately in need of a debut goal lift the pressure of him.
The biggest concern from the game was how Ghana capitulated within minutes after conceding the first goal. Reminiscent of how Otto Addo’s side lost control of the game against Portugal, they once again conceded twice in three minutes as Korea rallied their way back from 2-0 down.
In both cases, Ghana’s defenders were caught sleeping on the job. Salisu was slow to react to the cross that led to Korea’s first goal, while Gideon Mensah failed to read his surroundings properly, allowing Jo Gue-sung to ghost in behind him to power his header into the net. These are mistakes that will need to be rectified before Ghana face Uruguay on Friday.
In all, the Black Stars needed to produce a performance of sort following their 3-2 defeat against Portugal last week and they did exactly that, rising to the occasion when it mattered against Korea.
Now, Otto Addo would hope his side takes the same character and momentum into their grudge match against Uruguay. The result of that game will determine whether the Black Stars qualify for the knockout stages or not.
And if Ghana’s spirited performance against Korea is anything to go by, then the Black Stars should be able to hold their own against the South Americans.