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Tactical analysis: The Black Stars of Ghana, Egypt’s final hurdle

Asamoah Gyan - Black Stars of Ghana

With the Black Stars of Ghana the last team standing in the way of ’s first World Cup finals appearance since 1990, KingFut’s Hosam El-Aker breaks down how they may approach its all-or-nothing clash with the Pharaohs.

As Egypt and Ghana gear up for their do-or-die tussle and the right to represent Africa at next year’s FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil, I decided to study some film of the Black Stars’ road to the final qualifying phase.

Since highlights are virtually useless for tactical analysis, I try to watch full match videos, which I’m usually able to do thanks to YouTube. Due to time constraints, I had to limit my viewing to two matches, so I wanted to choose which to watch carefully. I initially didn’t care to re-watch Ghana’s last qualifier – a home win over Zambia – as I didn’t think it would offer the most pertinent information. Ghana went into that game knowing a draw would be enough to win the group. They also played almost the entire match with a lead, a very different circumstance from the one they’ll face in the first leg of their playoff against Egypt in Kumassi, where they’ll be looking to not only win but accumulate as many goals as possible. Aside from one other full match video however, it was the only one available.

For the purposes of this tactical breakdown I’ll be concentrating on the other match I watched, Ghana’s home win over Sudan. Ghana’s tactical and mental approach to that match is likely a much more accurate depiction of how they’ll approach the first leg against Egypt. The Black Stars were still looking to keep pace with Zambia at that point, and nothing short of a win against a game Sudanese side would suffice.


Much like Egypt, the Ghanaians switch between a traditional 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3/4-5-1. In the match against Sudan, which was still a game until late (2-0 with 10 minutes left to play), the Black Stars looked to be in a hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1. They were in a similar formation against Lesotho in a prior World Cup qualifier, winning 7-0.


While a number of these regulars will be missing for various reasons, including the entire back four, Ghana’s depth means there likely won’t be many tactical, formational, or strategic changes… mainly just alterations to the starting lineup.

The dotted arrows represent common movements I noticed on film. Wakaso is given a largely free role in attack, while the the left and right backs advance deep into the final third of the pitch, particularly in set piece situations. It’s worth keeping an eye on how often manager Kwesi Appiah sends his centre-backs forward, something he liked to do with Isaac Vorsah, who is out of the Egypt tie due to injury.


Their speed on the flanks is terrific, though that’s admittedly accentuated when playing less pacey sides like Sudan that like slower, build-up play. The Black Stars have a diversified attack and can come at teams in myriad ways, but from the game film one notices that they prefer to knock the ball over the top to their flankers, relying on them to catch up to and be first to the ball. Attacking, central, and even defensive midfielders then rush up the middle of the field toward the 18-yard-box awaiting either a short, low pass or an overhead cross from the flanks.

In the screenshots above you’ll notice Vorsah, a defender, getting behind the Sudanese defense as Gyan knocks the ball onto him. This is a perfect illustration of how dangerous man-marking would be against Ghana, as it’s quite easy to lose track of an attacking defender. In a man-on-man scheme, it’s likely the centre-backs would be assigned to mark strikers, and a sweeper could easily get swept up (pardon the pun) in worrying about an advancing midfielder instead of an advancing defender. Defending in zones is difficult enough against Ghana, but man-marking is borderline suicidal. As porous as Egypt’s defense is, I’m still more comfortable seeing Egypt play the zone scheme manager Bob Bradley has implemented over the traditional man-marking systems of past Egypt teams. To be successful in man defense in the modern game, your centre-backs need to be exceptionally athletic. If they aren’t, too many one-on-one situations, and at times gaping holes, can be created with minimal movement. Suffice it to say, the athleticism in Egypt’s central defense is less than stellar, which is where zone marking could help them compensate.

Watching the way Ghana attack, I was immediately reminded of the injury to Ahmed Hegazy, the influential Egypt and Fiorentina centre-back. Ghana likes to cross the ball when they have numbers in the box, the type that a towering centre-back like him would have devoured. Conversely, both Sudan and Zambia had some aerial opportunities of their own, the kind in which coach Bradley would have sent Hegazy forward into the box to meet.

The Ghanaians don’t hesitate to shoot from distance (meaning outside of the 18-yard box) if a clearer, closer path toward goal is unavailable. That said, it’ll be vital for Egyptian defenders to cut off passing lanes and shooting angles in the final quarter of the pitch, and not just play the ball. Sound positioning will be crucial to achieving this, as the film shows that Ghanaian attackers like to utilize fakes to create shooting space.

Zonal systems are typically more effective against squads that push forward with traditionally non-attacking players (i.e. defenders) since they account for a space, not a man. Modern attacks are simply too complex for man schemes to enjoy consistent success against. Hopefully there won’t be many more of the growing pains Egypt has experienced moving from man-marking to zone defense.

One of the aspects of the Black Stars’ attack that makes them unique within Africa is the versatility of their approach. They demonstrate the ability to either build up through shorter passes or play the long ball and use their strength and speed to control possession in the final third of the pitch. Typically, Africa’s elite are either characterized by their strength as a unit – their whole being greater than the sum of their parts – or by the skill of their individuals. Studying Ghana, you see a combination of both styles, making them a uniquely dangerous side. Ghana can’t and won’t be completely shut down by Egypt, but the Pharaohs do have a chance to win the tie on aggregate if it at least forces Ghana to be as one dimensional in its approach as possible.

It’s easy for less capable goalkeepers to make mistakes against Ghana, since they send plenty of high balls into the box. A keeper that’s poor at deciding when to and not to leave the six-yard box can easily get caught in no man’s land. Conversely, a net minder who’s good in the air can single-handedly take away one important dimension of Ghana’s multifaceted attack. As none of Egypt’s goalkeepers are particularly strong in the air, this aspect bears close, worrisome watching.

Mubarak Wakaso, who as mentioned seems to have a largely free role in attack, was the most dangerous man on film for my money. His left-footed volley for Ghana’s second goal against Sudan was the type of thing you just can’t defend against. Ghana will have their chances no matter what you do defensively, but Egypt will have a shot so long as they don’t help them and give anything away cheaply. Defensive mistakes are the only sure way to lose.


Defensive-midfielder Rabiu has an exceptional workrate. Think Ahmed Hassan’s energy (in his prime) combined with Hany Ramzy’s efficiency. Even though all-time Ghana great Michael Essien is set to replace him, I can’t see Rabiu’s unfortunate absence from the first leg as anything but a positive for Egypt.

Black Stars defenders shouldn’t simply be left to comfortably do their work in space, especially given that this won’t be their regular defensive unit Egypt faces in Kumasi. Pressuring Ghana high up the pitch could result in some unexpected opportunities, as the slides below demonstrate.

In these pictures, we see a Ghanaian defender pressured (I couldn’t identify him, but it might have been Afful) deep in his own half, leading to an aimless pass and a clear chance on goal for Sudan, which they squandered.

Set pieces

Plenty of teams are predictable when it comes to set pieces, Egypt under both Hassan Shehata and Bob Bradley is one of them. We know these teams will either be taking a direct or indirect shot on goal. Ghana, on the other hand, keeps you guessing every time.

The four-time African champions have plenty of set plays for these situations. In fact, the breadth of these plays reminds me of the Pharaohs under the late legend Mahmoud El-Gohary. Each of these set piece plays are meant to get opposing defenders out of position, creating spaces inside of the box for an attacking player to fill. I hate to harp on it more, but this is where zone/gap discipline will be key for Egypt defensively. If Egypt is able to keep Ghana from opening up such spaces in the defense, the Black Stars will be forced to shoot from distance – which they can do well – but a shot from 20 yards out is preferred to one from just 10 yards if you’re the defense. Trying to stop everything can often result in allowing everything, so it’ll be a game of percentages for Egypt; concentrate on stopping what’s most dangerous and highest percentage.

Ghana’s first goal against Sudan is a prime example of how well-drilled they are with set pieces in attack. They isolated Warris along the right flank. Wakaso found him before knocking the ball back into the box where no less than four white shirts were waiting to pounce on it against just two defenders… never good odds for a defense.


This isn’t an overly-complicated set-piece play design, and perhaps some naivety on the part of the Sudanese defense contributed to its success, but it’s a reminder nonetheless that defenders need to stay disciplined and not get dragged out of their respective zones. This play didn’t happen by accident, it was the result of careful design and repetitions in training.

Both Sudan and Zambia had a couple of free headers in attack of their own. Ghana can get a bit discombobulated with heavy box rotation on corner kicks. Though filling the box could leave slower defenses like Egypt’s susceptible to counter attacks, doing so could result in an unmarked attacker, especially given that Ghana also likes to keep at least one man on goalpost duty on corners.


In the snapshot above, you’ll notice very conventional movement within the box by Sudan that results in a free, wide-open header. Unfortunately for the Sudanese, the ball was headed the wrong way, but they nonetheless did well to confuse the Ghanaian defense and open up space.

Another piece of information to note on the set piece front is that Ghana often plays to win free kicks around the 18-yard box. This isn’t a surprise considering how many set piece plays they have and how well they execute them. If there’s no clear path to goal, whether by shooting or passing, Ghanaian attackers will try to draw a foul. This will probably be especially prevalent in the home leg, where getting the benefit of the doubt from the referee is more likely.


In the end, there isn’t much separating these teams tactically or on paper. The most important point I can possibly emphasize from studying Ghana is the need to play for all 90+ minutes. It sounds cliché, but never will this point have to be emphasized more than now. We know that Egypt has an odd tendency to go into a lull when playing with the lead, even if they also have a flare for the dramatic by scoring some late goals. If the Pharaohs get complacent and go into a shell, the film and the stats both show that they will get burned. Seven of Ghana’s goals in the group phase of World Cup qualifying have come in the final 10 minutes of matches. Seven! That’s easily the most such tally of any group winner in Africa. Ghana does not quit. They play from whistle to whistle and never feel like they’re out of a game.

For every tactical and strategic point brought up, there’s nothing I can harp on more than the intangibles: character, desire, relentlessness (for all 90+ minutes), and coming through in the clutch. When the dust settles, this will ultimately be the difference between Egypt and Ghana.



  1. afrifootball

    October 8, 2013 at 5:42 AM

    i think its a little naive to use one match to analyze a team, especially one like Ghana
    they are a compact team through the last few years, possibly the most difficult African side to break down and that is what they bring into this game. Are Egypt with their ageing core fluid enough to make the opponents lose shape? thats the question.

    • El Pharao

      October 8, 2013 at 8:34 AM

      Good question, it’s hard to predict who will win…i think both teams will win their home games though.

    • Hosam El-Aker

      October 8, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      That would indeed be naive, which is why a few matches were analyzed as mentioned 🙂

      The current Egypt squad is fairly balanced age-wise, though they are heavily reliant on one or two older players. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Egypt score in Ghana. The bigger concern for the Pharaohs is defense. How many goals will Egypt concede? That’s the burning question in my opinion.

  2. ali tamer

    October 8, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    woah, this is some advanced sh*t !

    • Hosam El-Aker

      October 8, 2013 at 11:08 AM

      Haha, hope you enjoyed it.

  3. Mohammed Sayed

    October 8, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    that was a great analysis, much better than anything on nilesports.

    • Hosam El-Aker

      October 9, 2013 at 1:23 AM

      Lol thanks Mohammed. I won’t claim to know as much as some of the pros on television, but I do enjoy studying these things, like many of our intelligent readers.

  4. egypt2014

    October 8, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    very good analysis do you think Hosam that by Mohamed Salah playing right wing the Ghanians would go and play Asamoah at left back to inhibit him. If they do so i would if i was Bradley i’d play Salah centre forward as he did against Mozambique away and play El Mohammedy right wing along with Fathi at right back. Asamoah is quick i believe this will be their secret weapon. But as you said if we are to win the older experienced players need to step up… an abu trika masterclass and intelligent play from him will win us the game inshallah.

    • Hosam El-Aker

      October 9, 2013 at 1:22 AM

      Thanks for the kind words! You bring up an interesting question. Asamoah is indeed responsible for the left side for Juve, but with their unconventional defense, he’s more of a midfielder than a defender. I think it would be risky for Ghana to have him play LB with only 2 CBs supporting him. At Juve he has 3 CBs behind to support him. Is it possible? Yeah I think so, it’s an interesting strategy that they’ve probably at least thought about.

      To be honest I’m hopeful that Bob Bradley will have something up his sleeve to keep the Ghanaians guessing with Salah. Nothing too elaborate, perhaps as simple as switching Salah from the right side to the left or middle and back throughout the match. In fact, I’d like to see an attacking trio of Salah, Treika, and perhaps Walid Soliman. All three could switch positions at times. It’ll be important to control the midfield, both to control the flow of the match and to help out our weak defense. I’d go with 2 center mids like Ghaly and Abd Rabbo behind them, along with a holding mid like Ashour. I’d stick with Fathy at RB since he’s superior defensively.

      • egypt2014

        October 9, 2013 at 7:12 AM

        Yes I agree with that point whole heartedly I believe ghaly should play as we need to have some sort of ball possession and he’s the only player we have,who has the ability in slowing the game down considerably. I definetly believe Walid Soliman has a chance due to his fine performance for ahly recently however will Bradley play 2 left footed attackers in him and salah maybe not. I’m confident we will score in Kumasi whether on the counter attack or through a free kick or a mistake from their inexperienced defenders. The tie in my opinion will still be open enough to win in Cairo no team will runaway with it in Kumasi. All we can do is hope Bradley gets it right but he usually does.!

  5. EGY-BRA

    October 9, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Find some way to show this to bob bradley ! Its really good:)

    • Hosam El-Aker

      October 10, 2013 at 9:11 PM

      I appreciate the kind words :). I’m sure Bradley knows more football than I ever will, but an extra set of eyes can’t hurt.

  6. Karim Kholeif

    October 10, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    One of my worries is our obvious weakness, the 2nd CB position, and which player will get the nod to partner Wael Gomaa in defence. With very few options available, I think it will be between Mohamed Naguib and Rami Rabia. My concern here is that our defence is prone to committing some costly mistakes (which against an opponent such as Ghana can tip the tie in their favour). If Naguib is to be selected ahead of Rabia, the outcome will be a slow pair of CB’s which may be very vulnerable on the counter-attack. The other option is Rabia, who is short on experience relative to Naguib which is a huge concern as well at this stage. Having watched Rabia play earlier this year (At the U20 African Championships), he seemed to be a solid defender and a good header of the ball (possibly a solution to Egypt’s everlasting defensive shortcomings) and can certainly form a strong partnership with Ahmed Hegazy (A player who is sorely missed) in the future. He is also a versatile player who can play in Midfield. I personally would want Rabia to start, but having never featured for Bob Bradley’s team in a competitive match (correct me if im wrong), would Bradley opt to start with Rabia in such a high profile match?

    • Hosam El-Aker

      October 10, 2013 at 9:14 PM

      Naguib and Rabia are the only guys left in the squad that can play CB next to Gomaa. No other CBs made the team. Considering Rabia hasn’t even been starting for El-Ahly, it’s almost certainly going to be Naguib.

      I think you share the same concerns of so many of us… our defense and goalkeeping really force us to hold our breaths the entire match :-/


    October 11, 2013 at 6:29 AM

    If egpyt have problem in their defense and goalkeeping why they want to go to the worldcup
    when they will meet brasil,holland,argentina,germany and italy and many more with your weak defense and goalkeeper.Egpyt will disgrace africa but with ghana you are sure banker to do well if they dont win the worldcup.


    October 11, 2013 at 6:43 AM

    . Are Egypt with their ageing core fluid enough to make the opponents lose shape?Guyz zambia bring their ageing players did the same thing and it didnt work.Africa need seven slot at the worldcup and so if africa send weak teams africa will lose the slot. africa need to send very good teams to the worldcup and egpyt is not one.

  9. Fady

    October 12, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    Hey I-JAHMAN

    Learn how to spell egpyt (Egypt) before talking about the Egyptian football. And about their defence and goalkeeper, the issue should be resolved when the injured players return and the rest of the players are back in-form. Egypt and Zambia play totally different brand of football, so no comparison there.

  10. Saif al Islam

    October 12, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Zambia is better than Egypt. What has Egypt done in the last 3 years?

    • Omar Mac

      October 13, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      To be honest, Not much. We played in the olympics which is about it BUT imagine how badley TWO revolutions can damage a country! i was in egypt for a year and believe me it was hard. But you wouldn’t know this because you and that other ghanian prick are just sitting behind the laptop criticising people and smelling like shit.

    • Ali AbdUl

      November 4, 2013 at 1:38 AM

      what has zambia done in alllllll its history, compared to egypt nothinggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg, egypt is in a very bad form right now and what do u expect thier is no legue and almost all our team is from the league, not like ghana all thier players play in europe

  11. Fady

    October 13, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    Here is the head to head results of Egypt vs Zambia. Egypt winning 10 times while Zambia 3

    And for one Zambia didn’t qualify to the last round, and Egypt is the only team in the world to have a perfect winning record, having won all of the matches played in the 2014 WC qualifiers.


    October 14, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    Well sorry guys,I really was hoping Egypt will make it to Brazil..But then when I found out youre playing Ghana,I said damn! Now Egypt stands no chance…I mean come on,dont you guys see our band of goal poachers??? all they do is score score n score!!

    • Omar Mac

      October 14, 2013 at 4:45 PM


    • Ali AbdUl

      October 15, 2013 at 1:06 AM

      last time we played you guys in angola 2010, gedo caused the sucidal rate in ghana to go up. LOL please ghanson the last time ghana beat us in a competitive match was ages ago lol. and dont comut sucide when we kick u out of the world cup. oh plus ghana was in a weak group and didnt get 18 points like egypt did. what a loser

      • Ali tamer

        October 15, 2013 at 7:33 AM


  13. Nana

    November 1, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Ghana was in weak group Zambia is soccer supper house in southern Africa , you know that and Losotho that Ghana beat 7:0 drew 1: with Zambia. Let see who had an easy group when you meet Zambia

  14. Issah Grusi

    November 3, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Egypt have always been a good side but let’s face it in the past they have had some favourable refereeing decisions go their way. In this second leg, now that the fear factor is gone Ghana will look to knock Egypt out completely with many more goals than the first leg. Already we have avenged a 5-1 beating that our olympic team received in 1964. It was my hope that Egypt will pull out from the second leg and mind you there’s still time to do just that. If the second leg does go ahead the game will go the same way the first leg went towards the end of the game in Ghana. Ghana will look to dwell on the ball and Egypt fouling and occasionally hit Egypt on the break with fast forwards like Warris and Gyan. My prediction for this second leg is 7-0 and no Abu Treika penalty and no setting off of fireworks as a result. Go Ghana!!

  15. Kwame

    November 19, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    “Ali AbdUl

    last time we played you guys in angola 2010, gedo caused the sucidal rate in ghana to go up. LOL please ghanson the last time ghana beat us in a competitive match was ages ago lol. and dont comut sucide when we kick u out of the world cup. oh plus ghana was in a weak group and didnt get 18 points like egypt did. what a loser”

    …so amusing to read. Such a weightless argument! Wondering how you guys are feeling a few hours to the start of the 2nd Leg. After you being trashed back in Kumasi I doubt you will stick to this infantile analysis. Wish the Eqyptians the best though, hope they will play fair. See you at the end of the game

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