Tactical Analysis - Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties)
Ghana had progressed to the World Cup quarter finals on a cocktail of some spirited and enterprising play, excellent organisation, and the support of an entire continent which appeared to spur them on as the only African representatives beyond the group stage. While the ability of vocal fans to suck the ball towards the opposing goal is said to be worth an extra man, one always got the feeling that this advantage would only take the Black Stars so far. Uruguay, who have been tight in defence and incisive in front of goal in this World Cup were always set to be a stern test for a side looking to become the first African semi-finalists in World Cup history. Their front pairing of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have both had dream seasons in club football with Atletico Madrid and Ajax respectively. The key question in this game was: “could the Black Stars cope with the attacking threat posed by opposition that was undeniably stronger on paper?” The feeling this writer got before the game was that we could have a situation where the Ghanaian goal looked vulnerable every time a light blue shirt carried the ball towards it.
For the first 25 minutes, Uruguay looked like a side from a different stratosphere to their opponents. Their ball retention was excellent, the movement was vibrant and energetic, and the aforementioned front pairing were linking up well. Final balls were missing the sixpence by a hair's breadth and as Richard Kingston punched a Forlan free kick straight up in the air, John Mensah nearly netted a memorable own goal from the resulting corner. Minutes later, Kingson redeemed himself with a sublime tip-over from Suarez’ snapshot, the opening goal looked imminent. Despite their 4-1-4-1 formation, Milovan Rajevic's side appeared easy to play through, spending copious amounts of their time chasing shadows as the latest wave of attack broke their lines just like the last. However, the goal never came and the Black stars began to gradually creep back into the game. Perhaps astonished that the scores were still level, South America's dark horses backed off. This, in turn, invited the maroon and gold shirts of their opposition onto them and awakened a relatively quiet crowd. As the Vuvuzelas began to blare once more, Isaac Vorsah had a header over the top, before Kevin Prince Boateng’s spectacular overhead went narrowly past the post. Muntari, however, struck gold on the stroke of halftime as the light blue shirts backed off, a cardinal sin against a fit, strong and intense side like Ghana. Not Fernando Muslera's finest moment, but having been boxed in for most of the half, the dreams of a continent were well and truly alive.
It would be the only decent spell for the Black Stars in the original 90 minutes. Oscar Tabarez, possibly inspired by his time in Italy, seemed content to adopt a counter-attacking style, with reliance on Suarez, Forlan and Edinson Cavani to do the damage on a swift counter. Necessity led to this approach being abandoned with striking results. Uruguay were positive, intent on not just levelling the game, but winning it, and thoroughly deserved their equaliser when it came. Suarez volleyed into the side netting when Forlan produced more magic down the left, and there looked only one winner. Kingston was Ghana's best player in this period of the game, which tells you everything. His save from Suarez in the first half was equalled with the scores level and with their dual taking on immense significance. Once again though, the goal that Uruguay deserved never came. Ghana, thoroughly outclassed for three quarters of the 90 minutes, worked tirelessly and broadly kept their shape and discipline.
It is often assumed that he who forces the pace in a contest handles it better. However, as Uruguay visibly tired in extra time, we had 15 minutes of inertia followed by the spell of Ghanaian dominance which culminated in one of the most dramatic yet tragic moments in sporting history. Asamoah Gyan's last minute spot kick miss will no doubt haunt him until his dying day. Though he showed courage to net his kick in the shoot-out, what followed was a drama that appeared to centre around a series of tribute acts. Adyiah and Mensah produced copycat efforts that were saved, while Maxi Perreira paid homage to Chris Waddle. It was strangely fitting that the penalty that silenced the crowd was inspired by Antonin Panenka's effort in 1976, which also sealed a shoot-out victory. Tabarez may want to stress to his team the significance of being positive, but also ruthless in the final third. When they got at Ghana, the hosts looked distinctly uncomfortable, and perhaps indicated that the Black Stars' run has been in part due to Serbia in particular paying them too much respect. Tabarez' time at AC Milan was a disaster, but English and Italian fans will know for certain he has had a much better World Cup than the man who preceded and followed him. Their chances may have been dented after the Suarez red card, but do not write them off just yet.