The Black Meteors of Ghana and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon were at each other’s throat on Friday night in the second Group B clash of the ongoing U23 AFCON in Egypt.
An expertly taken free kick from Frank Evina on the 59th minute was cancelled by defender Habib Mohammed to level the score with just 4 minutes to end proceedings.
Though unexpected, the game which was flooded with several brilliant and technical players ended up being a highly tactical battle between the two coaches Rigobert Song and Ibrahim Tanko.
For the 7th time, Tanko has not been defeated since he assumed office as the head coach of the Black Meteors.
How did that happen and what were the tactical angles of the two managers that made the game a tactical tag of war?
Both Cameroon and Ghana started the game with the same static formations, 4-3-3 but with different variations.
Cameroon (4-3-3, 4-2-1-3)
The static formation for Cameroon was a defensive 4-3-3 system in which they had two defensive midfielders in Eteki Yen and Victor Ekani with Kevin Olivier playing in front of them as the offensive midfielder.
Simon Omossola (GK)
Olivier Mbaizo (RB)
Raphael Anaba (LB)
Samule Oum Gouet (CB)
Oumar Gonzalez (CB)
Eteki Yen Brice (DM)
Victor Ekani (DM)
Kevin Olivier (OM)
Erick Ayuk (RW)
Cheoukou Micahel (LW)
Frank Evina (CF)
This was how the Cameroonians lined up for the game and for in most part of the duration, they kept their shape and organization and always defended as a united.
Ghana (4-3-3, 4-1-2-3)
The static formation for Ghana was similar to that of Cameroon but in an offensive dimension. Ghana had Simon Zibo in defensive midfield position while Michael Agbekpornu and Yaw Yeboah sat in offensive roles.
This will be explained better for you to understand why Cameroon had a defensive approach to Ghana’s offensive style.
Kwame Baah (GK)
Kingsley Fobi (RB)
Edward Sarpong (LB)
Habib Mohammed (CB)
Zakaria Fuseini (CB)
Simon Zibo (DM)
Michael Agbekpornu (OM)
Yaw Yeboah (OM)
Abass Issah (LW)
Evans Mensah (RW)
Kwabena Owusu (CF)
The static formations of both teams gave the impression that both coaches had watched their opponents before the game and at least had a fair idea of what to expect on Friday night.
For Coach Ibrahim Tanko to have started with an offensive 4-3-3 system, it was clear from the onset that he wanted to attack Cameroon and that explained why Ghana had a fair share of possession, especially in the first half but could not break the Cameroonian defence, because Song was too defensive.
While Ghana had only Simon Zibo in defensive position to pull the breaks on the Cameroonians, Cameroon had two defensive midfielders to hand the two offensive midfielders of Ghana. So it was a one-v-one situation in the midfield for both teams.
The slight difference was that the Ghanaian midfield was fluid because Agbekpornu and Yaw Yeboah were both good on the ball and could attack at any time.
But Rigobert Song had an antidote to that, hence having Eteki and Ekani to pull the breaks on the two. This explains why Ghana kept the ball between Evans Mensah and Yaw Yeboah on most occasions to the dissatisfaction of many fans who felt the two were twisting and turning too many times with the ball.
Eteki and Ekani were intelligent in their marking, not committing fouls, not attacking deep, and sitting deep to defend was basically their job and they did it.
Strangely, both sides had similar qualities in certain aspects of the game. Cameroon striker Frank Evina had similar qualities like Ghana’s Kwabena Owus. Both players were ball playing attackers. So at a point, one could realise that both players dropped deeper than expected to pick the balls and sometimes tried to meander their way through the defenders which could not work.
While Cameroon had Raphael Anaba to pull the breaks on Abass Issah who was eventually substituted, Ghana had Edward Sarpong who kept Erick Ayuk out of the game completely. Ayuk, prior to the game was the danger man in the Cameroon side but Edward worked on him well.
From these permutations and similarities, it was always going to take either set piece, a moment of individual brilliance or a blunder by either a goalie or defender to bring a goal. And clearly these happened in the game – Cameroon scored from a free kick and Ghana scored from an individual resilience from Habib.
So when the first half ended goalless, both coaches were perhaps thinking of how to outsmart each other and that was the moment Tanko had the upper hand over Song, slightly.
Tanko is gradually demonstrating his tactical prowess especially from the bench, winning or picking major points from the second half, and he did that again against Song.
After Evina scored from a free kick following Habib Mohammed’s poor tackle, Tanko made some quick changes to his side, bringing on Emanuel Lomotey for Simon Zibo and Evans Osei Wusu for Yaw Yeboah.
At this point, Tanko’s intention was clear, especially to anyone who knew the qualities of the players he had introduced. Lomotey, a good passer of the ball was brought on to effect good distribution and proper circulation of the ball for the Black Meteors.
Remember, before Lomotey came on, Samuel Obeng, who is a pure center forward (an arrow head) had been brought on and with his energy and pace, Lomotey was needed to send all the long and deep balls to him. Kwabena Owusu then dropped to his favourite wing position. The #GameChanger was at work at this point.
So at this point, Lomotey’s inclusion meant Agbekpornu had to drop into defensive role as Ghana abandoned the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. Osei Wusu and Kwabena Owusu played wide on the flanks; Lomotey and Agbekpornu were in central midfield while Evans Mensah supported Samuel Obeng in attack. The shape changed and Cameroon started panting.
This is the point Ghana gained the upper hand over Cameroon as Lomotey stabilized the midfield, started distributing long balls, Obeng was getting feed, Owusu was fluid on the flanks and Mensah was as sexy as all could imagine.
Tanko’s second half performance gives the impression that Ghana may alter their line up in the second game against Egypt on Monday.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed and see what Tanko has under his sleeves against hosts, Egypt.