Black Stars Playbook: How Otto Addo tactically outclassed Portugal in near upset

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Ghana kicked off her 2022 World Cup campaign in exhilarating fashion, narrowly losing 3-2, to Portugal at the Stadium 974.

While many expected Ghana to be blown away by their counterparts, the Selecao of Portugal, struggled to breakdown the Black Stars and found their opening goal only after being awarded a contentious penalty.

Despite Ghana’s doggedness, Addo has been criticised for a couple of in-game decisions, and irrespective of their credibility to some extent, criticism of Ghana’s approach versus Portugal, is ill-informed.

Shape versus Portugal

The Black Stars begun the encounter in a 3-5-2; a back three of Mohammed Salisu, Alexander Djiku and Daniel Amartey. There was a midfield three of Mohammed Kudus, Abdul Salis Samed and Thomas Partey flanked by Baba Rahman and Alidu Seidu. Dede Ayew played up top, off Inaki Williams.

But when locked in defensively, the full backs retreated, with Ghana settling into a 5-3-2.

Approach versus Portugal

Many Ghanaians have criticised Otto Addo’s approach, describing it as ‘defensive’ and ‘giving too much respect’ but all are ill-advised.

Throughout their World Cup qualifying run, 13 of Portugal’s 22 goals came directly from the wide areas via crosses and cutbacks. Only three of their goals came from central areas; two from counter attacks and one from pressing.

So Ghana’s idea of the 3-5-2 and 5-3-2, was to ensure the Black Stars had enough security in the wide areas where the Portuguese like to play their football, and in the opener versus Ghana they looked to apply the same approach from their qualifying run.

Provided by FIFA

And despite Portugal’s ball dominance in the first half, all of their attempts on target (2) came from Ghana’s blunders, and not Portugal carving open the defense.

Ghana’s ability to stifle all of Portugal’s wide threats was made possible by the team’s ability to match-up the Portuguese in those areas, without conceding space in defence. When defending, Ghana’s wing backs in Rahman and Seidu – depending on the ball’s position – were able to step up confidently to Portugal’s full backs because of that extra body of the third centre back.

Salisu covers for Rahman who steps out to press Cancelo

This same approach can be viewed in the buildup to Portugal’s ‘penalty’ as Seidu stepped up to Guerreiro, with Amartey covering him.

As Seidu steps up, Amartey covers for him, Djiku shadows Felix, while Kudus tracks Ronaldo

There will be arguments a back 4 could have done similar work with the ball-sided winger dropping deeper to form a back line of 5, in support of his fullback. But this idea is flawed, as Ghana’s approach will have left the team overly defensive.

The advantage of Ghana starting out in a straight back 3 meant, the Black Stars could still have two players up front even when locked in, in defense (5-3-2). But unless the defensive shape was adjusted, in a 4-2-3-1 system, having a winger drop back will translate to a 5-4-1, leaving the Black Stars with a sole attacking outlet, and a ‘defender’ who is really not a defender.

Portugal, throughout the qualifiers also adopted the defensive approach of a full back stepping out to press his opponent.

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But since they do not play in a back 3, covering space created by the fullback’s defensive movement is very difficult. And it is through this flaw in Portugal’s defensive application the Black Stars grabbed their two goals.

In the first goal, Cancelo steps up to apply pressure on Baba Rahman, and the ball moves into the space he’s vacated as both Ruben Neves and Ruben Dias are unable to properly cover the space. Kudus picks up the ball in the same space and his cut back finds Dede Ayew.

In between the red lines drawn, is where the space is as Cancelo steps up. Inaki’s movement is critical, as it occupies Dias for Kudus’ ‘blind’ run

Kudus picks up the ball in that same space.

In Ghana’s second goal, Rahman bombs forward as Cancelo steps up to press – anticipating him to receive to feet. But Rahman’s run means Salisu can now pass into the space created by Cancelo stepping up.

Jordan’s position means Dias is focused on him. Rahman starts run into space vacated by Cancelo.

Rahman nudges Cancelo to receive ball. Osman Bukari scores from cross


Despite seeding ball possession to the Portuguese for almost the entirety of the first half, Addo and his technical team were obviously very diligent in their preparation for the Portugal opener. The system deployed was critical in ensuring Ghana left nothing to chance as Portugal were very controlled in the key or dangerous areas of the pitch.

But for a dodgy penalty call, and an individual mistake, Ghana were in to beat Portugal. And contrary to the publicist commentary, the approach was not ‘overly respectful’. The Black Stars with only 35% of possession, recorded 8 goal attempts in total. Portugal with 65% ball possession managed 11.

And of Ghana’s 8 attempts, 3 were on target with 5 of Portugal’s 11 on target.

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