060214_ghananetherlands_reuters_rtr3rnfv Michael Kooren/Reuters Pictures
Group G Essentials

3 Quick Thoughts on the Netherlands—Ghana Match

ASN’s Blake Thomsen takes a look at what we can learn from Ghana’s game this past Saturday. Herein lies highlights, analysis, and how it all pertains to the United States men's national team.
BY Blake Thomsen Posted
June 02, 2014
2:27 PM
IN ITS PENULTIMATE World Cup preparation game, Ghana fell to a strong Netherlands side 1-0. The scoreline probably flattered the Ghanaians, who showed flashes of their strengths but also struggled in some key areas. ASN analyzes what we can learn about Ghana from this performance, with a special focus on how it all relates to the U.S.


The Dutch Holy Trinity of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie cut through Ghana’s backline with ease throughout the game, and never easier than on RvP’s fifth-minute opener.

Had the Netherlands (and Robben especially) been more clinical, this game could have easily been 3-0 or 4-0 in favor of the Dutch. Don’t believe me? Watch the highlights below.

The curious part about this defensive lineup is that it contained potentially zero World Cup starters. It seems that manager Kwesi Appiah used the game more as a test to see who would make his final 23-man roster rather than as preparation for the World Cup. For teams with established and well-drilled defensive units such as Brazil or Portugal, such a tactic seems reasonable.

But considering Ghana’s prospective first-choice group of Daniel Opare, Jonathan Mensah, John Boye, and Harrison Afful has never started a match together, it was a baffling decision.

It becomes even stranger considering Ghana has just one friendly left before the game against the U.S. on June 16, which means the U.S. will likely face a backline that is still learning how to play together (cue nervous laughter from the U.S. supporter corner, as they think about the inexperience of the group Jurgen Klinsmann will inevitably send out).

One positive for Ghana was the convincing display of Adam Kwarasey in net. The tall, athletic keeper confidently dealt with everything the Dutch threw at him, aside from van Persie’s early tap-in, for which he certainly wasn’t at fault.


Ghana used its familiar tactic of pressing relentlessly for much of the game, throwing numbers forward and harrying the Dutch into a series of clearances. The Ghanaians dominance in the air invites this tactic. In this match alone, Ghana won an incredible 65% of its aerial duels overall, and nearly every one in the defensive part of the pitch. However, space is available in the rare instances when they lose an aerial duel.

The golden Dutch chance at the 1:42 mark of the above video illustrates just how vulnerable Ghana can become if they lose an aerial duel. The entire “buildup” is a clearance from a Dutch defender, yet it quickly develops into a breakaway chance for Robben.

Given the inevitable pressing that Ghana will do against the U.S., Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore will need to be at their best when contesting long balls. Both showed promise in that department against Turkey and will need to do so again to both relieve pressure from the U.S. backline and potentially create dangerous chances on the counter.

One other thing to note about combating Ghana’s high press: smart ball retention is essential.

Much like the aim of the aggressive full-court style that many college basketball teams utilize (or Russell Westbrook implements by himself), the goal of Ghana’s press is to create turnovers high up the field and turn them into scoring opportunities. Need a visual of what this tactic looks like in action? Apologies in advance.

Note the press leading to Ricardo Clark’s turnover, followed by Ghana bursting into life on the attack. This time around, the U.S. must make sure to not surrender cheap giveaways that lead to Ghanaian breaks. For that reason, it would definitely make sense to deploy Michael Bradley deeper than the tip of the diamond role he has played in the last two friendlies. His calmness on the ball and ability to relieve pressure with clever passes will be of utmost importance in “breaking” the Ghanaian press. Whether Klinsmann feels similarly remains to be seen.


Aside from the high press, Ghana also often looks to create chances via long balls played either over the top or into the channels between the center and outside backs. This tactic failed repeatedly against the Netherlands’ 5-3-2, which featured three athletic center backs who generally handled these types of passes without issue.

The long ball tactic might find more joy against the U.S.’s two center backs, however, especially with the amount of space that the current U.S. system leaves when the outside backs are caught up the pitch—a highly common occurrence, given how strong their attacking emphasis has been in the last two friendlies.

Ghana’s team is well suited to playing this way, with strength and athleticism to spare in attacking players Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah, and Kevin Prince-Boateng. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler will need to be at their sharpest to make sure they don’t allow Ghana in behind.

This tactic is a simple one, but it can be ruthlessly effective. Apologies again for more U.S. soccer fan horror footage.

Here, Gyan simply outpaces and outmuscles Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit on a simple ball over the top that seems to be a clearance more so than a pass. Cameron and Besler are a more athletic pair than their 2010 counterparts, but they will still have their hands full with Gyan and Co.

Final thoughts: though Appiah played an understrength team, Ghana looked very beatable. They are a virtual guarantee to leave plenty of space in front of their inexperienced back four, and the U.S. should create plenty of chances. Ghana will be quite dangerous going forward, though, especially if the U.S. makes mistakes on the ball.

Sound familiar? That assessment admittedly sounds a lot like the U.S. at this point. World Cup openers are usually tense affairs, but given the trajectories of both teams at the moment, a goalfest seems imminently possible. We’ll be back with a prediction and deeper tactical analysis as it gets closer to June 16.

Did you watch the Ghana game? How do you feel about the U.S.’s chances against the old nemesis? Let us know in the comments section below.

Blake Thomsen is an ASN contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter. He recently hit the 100 follower mark and he’s hungry for more.

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