Lomé, TOGO – The scoreline speaks of a breathless game but it was the body language that spoke loudest.
Ghana delivered a resilient performance for a crucial 3-2 away win on Wednesday, taking them second in Group E of the Afcon 2015 qualifiers.
Journalists have long stopped taking what the Ghana team say in press conferences very seriously – because it all sounds choreographed – and that is why the trip to Togo had to be made: to look beyond the words.
As a collective, the Black Stars were a behavioral psychologist’s dream.
Before kickoff, Togolese media had hyper-analyzed why they felt the Ghana team’s well-documented Brazil fiasco and subsequent fallout with the public will inure to the Sparrow Hawks’ benefit.
“You know we live in a global village so with the internet we can read all the information being produced from your media,” said Georges Atakpe, a local freelance journalist.
“We expect that the urgency of winning at home and the lack of concentration in your team will be in our favour. The Togolese public expects a win!”
With a 26,000 strong stadium against them, four-time African Cup winners, Ghana, were suddenly underdogs against Togo, who have not made the last two tournaments.
During the warmup, Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew made it their business to galvanize their colleagues.
On one revealing occasion, Gyan broke out of the circle of players warming up to do some kickabouts alone.
And then, while all others sat, the older Ayew rose. He spent about two minutes speaking.
Whatever he said must have sounded good, because his colleagues got up clapping.
The crowd was loud, as expected, but it was a long way from anything that could strike fear into this Ghana team.
The first goal certainly introduced urgency into Kwesi Appiah’s boys, after a lack of communication at the back gifted Floyd Ayite an easy finish.
With a motley crew of Ghanaian supporters to the west of the Stade Kegue, the Black Stars never had a moment to feel alone.
Propser Kassim, leader of the Nationwide Supporters Union (NSU) explained their role after the game.
“The plan was to sing, dance and play our instruments for the whole game, whether we were leading or not. We needed our boys to feel that they are not alone.”
And that’s what they did.
It contributed largely to Ghana’s ability to draw level at 1-1, take a 2-1 lead and then, with five minutes to go, Christian Atsu’s winner to finish it off at 3-2.
Togo’s Malaysia-based defender, Akoriko Sadate, was petrified of Asamoah Gyan throughout the game.
“He is not such a bad defender,” another Togolese journalist noted, “but it seems the combination of your county’s big names scares him.”
It certainly did not help that Gyan played like a man on a mission, covering every blade of grass he could find.
And when the striker did out-jump Togo’s Gafar Mamah and Akiriko for the leveller that made it 1-1, Gyan made the parrot gesture that sent a clear message to his many detractors: “You talk too much”.
Neutralizing the talisman
The tactical use of Adebayor by the Sparrow Hawks is interesting. Undoubtedly their biggest player, the Spurs forward specializes in not doing a whole lot when he’s in the national team kit.
He literally does as he likes.
But, like his goal showed, Sheyi maximizes the output of his sub-standard teammates by conserving energy for individual moments of impact.
In the second half the Premier League star fell deeper into midfield and helped with organizational duties, but that was also because the Ghanaian defence generally did a good job on him.
But for Ghana, the drama would begin with Andre Ayew’s sub.
Andre Ayew’s reaction to coming off
Emmanuel Agyeman Badu’s goal had put the Stars in control and momentum was on their side. The noise levels had gone down markedly; the Togolese crowd was impatient.
Then when the ball went out for a throw on the far left, Rabiu Mohammed trotted to the touchline from the bench.
Andre Ayew did not know he was coming off, and when he was told, the look on his face was priceless.
His slow walk across the pitch spoke even louder.
He got to the touchline, picked a bottle, took a swig, and smashed it on the tarmac.
Fatau Dauda reached out to cool him down. The other coaches and players watched.
The Togolese comeback
Kwesi Appiah, by this time, had given Togo a mental boost as the man they deemed most dangerous, Andre, had been taken off.
After the game Appiah explained the sub: “Sometimes you make a change for tactical reasons. I won’t say he was playing bad.
“He was doing well but that’s why you have people on the bench so sometimes you bring them on to bring more energy in the game and I believe that even when [Togo] equalized we had a lot of scoring opportunities even after we got the third goal – which means that the substitutions we did brought a lot of energy in the game.”
But did Andre really have to be subbed, considering Appiah himself admits he was playing well?
The coach: “I personally believe whether he was in or out it wouldn’t have made any difference.”
But within minutes after the decision, Adebayor had risen to power home a header from a corner, unmarked. 2-2 it was.
Andre sat quietly on the bench and shook his head. But not for long.
When Ayew was subbed, he got to the touchline,
picked a bottle, took a swig, and smashed it on the tarmac.
Influence: Appiah v Andre
The last five minutes probably showcased the sheer scale of indecision on Ghana’s bench.
With the side staring down the barrel of a draw in a game they had controlled for the previous 20 minutes, Kwesi Appiah was restless on the touchline.
He called for Majeed Waris, perhaps noting that Jordan Ayew was tiring quickly.
The new Trabzonspor signing got his shirt on, only for Appiah to signal that he wanted Solomon Asante instead.
The TP Mazembe man got his shirt on and proceeded to stretch up and down the tarmac.
But on the field, moments later, Christian Atsu struck.
The Everton man capitalized on another blackout in the Togolese defence, raced past Vincent Bossou (a defender curiously wearing the 9 jersey) and Wome Dove to poke the ball past Kossi Agassa.
As the stadium fell silent, Kwesi Appiah signaled for Waris to also sit down, then called South Africa-based Edwin Gyimah.
Andre had seen enough.
By this time the Marseille man had changed into his bib; then he charged onto the touchline and started issuing instructions beside his coach.
The abruptness of his action surprised the technical team. Team manager Sabhan Quaye got up, as did assistant manager Maxwell Konadu.
It was clear they did not know who to bring on. Or what to do.
All this while, Mokhtar Amalou, the fourth official was waiting for the Ghana bench to make up their minds.
In the end, Andre was asked to get back to his seat, Gyimah came on and Ghana run down the clock to win.
Three points were in the bag, but Kwesi Appiah’s subs left more than a few bewildered.
But perhaps, the bigger question: is Kwesi Appiah in control?
By Gary Al-Smith/citifmonline.com/Togo