“Black Stars of Ghana! A striker wanted!” cried the commentator for Accra’s Hot FM as half time approached with his team unable to turn the superiority of their possession and play into a goal against a determined and well-organised Togo side in last night’s friendly at Brentford’s Griffin Park.
Chelsea’s Michael Essien played a forceful role in what must be one of international football’s classiest midfield quartets, regularly combining with captain Stephen Appiah for one or the other to burst to the edge of the box and make a chance, but Togo’s resolute defending was such that they could not carve out a clear scoring chance. Regular world cup substitute Rodney Pimpong fizzed around up front, stretching the defence, but his best effort was a turn and shot that zipped wide on 26 minutes. His partner up front, Matthew Amoah, seemed unable to get clear of his markers and had come closest to scoring when Pimpong’s errant 17th minute shot was redirected goalwards via Amoah’s stomach but was cleared off the line.
Togo looked lively on the counter but seemed more likely to snatch the lead courtesy of occasionally casual defending by the evening’s hosts. Arsenal target Shilla Illiasu will hope his careless back header has been taped over with some of his good anticipatory blocking before Arsene is shown the video of this one and West Ham signing, right back John Paintsil, though looking classy and comfortable in possession, made one or two errors seemingly through over-confidence. We’re also concerned that he looked a bit slight for the Premiership just at the moment, something you can’t say about the man mountain that is Udinese midfielder Sulley Ali Muntari, half as burly again as Essien and rumoured to be interesting Portsmouth. Often an attacking wide player his brief on the night was to play just in front of the defence where he imposed himself and sprayed the ball around effectively.
Nevertheless, the Sparrow Hawks of Togo, fielding several inexperienced players in place of established stars like Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor, started the second half on level terms and still carrying a threat. With ten more minutes gone, however, the shape of things to come arrived as a long right-to-left ball found Essien who took it on before feeding Muntari whose shot smashed off the underside of the crossbar from 20 yards. The ball crashed down and out, but sat up invitingly for young substitute striker Alex Tachie-Mensah to bicycle kick towards the roof of the net only to be thwarted by the outstanding Abdoul Nassirou Omourou in the Togolese goal, recovering and leaping up to palm the ball over.
A minute later, though, his good work was undone as Ghana once again exploited a crossfield pass to the right of Togo’s defence, this time picked up by Londonist’s man of the match Stephen Appiah who beat the offside trap before calmly lifting the ball over Omourou for Pimpong to thrash into an unguarded net from 6 yards.
Togo hit back with a chance that went just over but Ghana began to turn on the style culminating in a slick passing move that saw Essien fire a 20 yard drive against the post with the keeper beaten. With eight minutes remaining Appiah picked up a loose ball and rushed into the area but was denied by a brave and timely claim at his feet by Omourou. Togo’s Guyazou Kassim made two promising surges through the heart of the Ghana defence leading to a jittery final few minutes in and around their area before the Black Stars capped the night with a replay of their first goal, this time with Appiah a little wider, cutting the ball across the area for Tachie-Mensah to sidefoot home unchallenged.
Southampton manager George Burley and QPR boss Gary Waddock were among the managers doubtless looking for reinforcements amongst players who are increasingly finding places at some of Europe’s top clubs. As well as ‘keeper Omourou of Togo Port our own eye was taken by his right back Abdoul Gaffar Mamah, a last minute replacement flown in from Moldova where he plays for FC Sheriff. Powerful attacking midfielder Kassim is at Etoile Filante from Lomé in Togo while Ghana’s Tachie-Mensah is with St. Gallen in Switzerland. Right back Dan Quaye, a second half substitute rumoured to interest Crystal Palace, didn’t have enough to do to really give a clear impression of his talents while Chelsea fans will hope Michael Essien, playing with a cast after breaking his wrist in the Community Shield, is as unconcerned about it as he was last night.