Ghana and Tunisia played out the final round of 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations 2019, in a game that turned out to be very even and balanced from a tactical point of view. Both Ghana and Tunisia decided to play with a conservative tactic so as not to take risks. These direct elimination matches are generally like that, as the teams play not to lose, which makes them very interesting for a tactical analysis.
In fact, the first goal of the match came in the 73rd minute from Tunisia. From there, Tunisia retreated and Ghana sought a draw through all possible ways. Ghana managed to draw in the last play of the match by a Tunisian own goal, meaning that extra time needed to be played. There, neither team was able to take advantage due to physical fatigue and the match was decided by penalty kicks.
The following tactical analysis will show you why both teams failed to take advantage during the match. We will also show some statistics that will help with the analysis to tell us how even the encounter was. This tactical analysis will show how both teams played and what the strengths and weaknesses in their different tactics were.
Ghana coach James Appiah used a 4-2-3-1 formation for this match in which he made some changes to his tactics. Abdul Baba left his centre-back position to play left-back. Kasim Adams, who did not play the previous match against Guinea-Bissau, entered to occupy the centre-back position left by Baba.
In midfield, there were also changes made by Appiah. Afriyie Acquah came in place of Owusu Kwabena, who played the last match of the group stage. This change was understood to make Acquah a defensive midfielder alongside Mubarak Wakaso, the Deportivo Alavés player from Spain.
Appiah also changed the system in midfield. The two defensive midfielders were joined by one more line ahead of them. Samuel Owusu played on the right and Thomas Partey played as an attacking midfielder to be the link between midfield and strikers. On the left played Andre Ayew, a little further back than he usually plays. Jordan Ayew played for this game as the only striker.
Tunisia coach Alain Giresse opted for a 4-3-3 system. For this match, Tunisia had several changes in the formation with regard to the previous match against Mauritania. The defensive line of four players has been consistent and will surely be the same in the next match against Madagascar.
The changes for this match were in the midfielders and strikers, as well as in the scheme, as Tunisia went from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3. Ellyes Skhiri played as the only defensive midfielder. Ghailene Chaalali and Ferjani Sassi were the interior midfielders replacing Karim Aouadhi and Naïm Sliti.
There were also changes in the strikers. Youssef Msakni, the biggest star of this team, repeated the previous match and continued to position himself as a left winger. Anice Badri, the French nationalised Tunisian, played from the right and the centre striker was Yassine Khenissi.
New Tunisian tactics
Tunisia changed its style and strategy thanks to the arrival of Giresse. With his fifth team as a coach in Africa, Giresse has tried to implement his European style of possession and position. That is to say, a team with the ball in their power and with many movements of positions between the players.
The defensive midfielder is an important part of Giresse’s new idea. In this case, it was Ellyes Skhiri. He is the player in charge of generating a pass line for the two centre-backs. This serves the clean build-up that the coach is looking for.
In addition, the interior midfielders Chaalali and Sassi must know how to position themselves very well so that the centre-backs can play openly. The full-backs also played very close to the sideline to generate width.
Based on this style of play, the centre-backs have a lot of contact with the ball. For this, it is necessary to have players who are technically good and that is not so easy to find. That’s why for many times it is necessary to analyze the pass statistics of the players and the zones of the pitch.
In fact, in this match, Bronn gave 41 passes and Meriah gave 76 passes. This is interesting because Meriah was the player who made the most passes in Tunisia. He was also the second player to make the most passes in the match after Ghana’s Wakaso with 84 passes.
Appiah had studied their opponents very well but from a conservative point of view. Ghana tried to put pressure on the Tunisian team from the very first minutes. The idea of pressure was at times blocking the passing lanes and at times putting pressure on a possible receiver.
Appiah’s idea was to create problems for Tunisia when the ball came from the backline. Ghana used constant pressure so that the Tunisian centre-backs had to kick long balls.
A key player was Thomas Partey. The Atlético Madrid player had to play a very different role to the one he usually plays in the Spanish team. At times he was standing next to André Ayew to try to pressure and force Tunisia to make mistakes.
In this style of play of possession and position, the flanks take on significant importance. The wide players must play very open to generate amplitude and pass constantly to the attack to generate depth. The full-backs of Tunisia always tried to accompany the play to be an option to pass to in the attack.
In this way, Tunisia tried several times to attack, but without much clarity, with the full-backs occupying the free spaces. In this sense, Tunisia generated interesting movements between the full-backs and the wingers. For example, Msakni moved towards the centre of the pitch to get behind the central striker. Thus, Hoddadi could move on to receive a pass in the free space left by Msakni.
The same thing happened on the right side of the pitch. That same tactic used between the full-back and the winger that played on that flank also worked there. The same movements were repeated. The right full-back, Kechrida, ran into the space left by Badri, the right winger. Badri was positioned to receive a pass behind the central striker to create space for Kechrida.
4-4-2 in defence from Ghana
Ghana not only appealed to pressure to try to counter Tunisia’s tactics. They tried to defend with a basic tactic based on order and simplicity. Ghana used a 4-4-2 system when they lost possession of the ball. Without the ball in their possession, Ghana quickly organized itself with two lines of four players in defence and midfield. Ahead there were two players left to counterattack.
The Ghanaian players made some interesting moves to reorganize the defence and establish the 4-4-2 quickly. First, André Ayew and Owusu positioned themselves on the same line as Wakaso and Acquah. This midfield line also tried to play close to the back-line to be a more compact team. Thomas Partey was released along with Jordan Ayew.
5-3-2 in defence from Tunisia
When Tunisia didn’t have the ball in their possession, they went on to use a 5-3-2 system. This was the system that was easiest for them given the tactics that their coach tries to impose on his players. With a couple of moves, the system was quickly armed changing tactics when Tunisia lost the ball.
Skhiri was placed between the two centre-backs to make the line of five players in defence. In this way, the full-backs were opened more to occupy the entire width of the pitch also defending. Msakni, the left winger, was positioned next to Sassi and Chaalali to form a line of three midfielders. The idea was not to leave spaces between the lines to avoid a possible penetrative pass from Ghana.
The statistics serve to show how even the match was in most aspects. Despite Ghana taking almost twice as many shots as Tunisia, only six of the 23 were on target. Tunisia was a little more effective in that sense, as four out of 12 were on target.
In addition, possession of the ball was 48% for Ghana, with 52% for Tunisia. Also, the percentage of successful passes was almost the same: 75% of successful passes for Ghana and 73% for Tunisia.
The average position of both teams on the pitch is interesting. Ghana (orange and left on the image) used a formation of 4-2-3-1 as their tactics, but with very advanced full-backs. That meant that Yiadom and Baba were almost two more midfielders during the match. Ghana looked a little messy during the match.
Tunisia (blue and right on the image), for their part, worked more on the match under a 5-3-2 formation. Skhiri played between the two centre-backs for most of the match. Chaalali, Sassi, and Msakni played very closely together, collaborating more in defence towards the left side. That speaks well of the order imposed by the coaches’ tactics.
Tunisia has a great opportunity to advance from the quarter finals, a round they have not passed since the Africa Cup Of Nations 2004 played on home soil. The problem is that Tunisia still cannot win a match in this Africa Cup Of Nations 2019. The debut against Angola ended in a 1-1 draw, the second match was a 1-1 draw against Mali and the last group stage match was a 0-0 draw against Mauritania. This match was defined by another draw.
From now on, Tunisia will have to risk more against one of the surprise teams in this Africa Cup of Nations: Madagascar. In the quarter finals, the team led by Frenchman Giresse will face a very tough and close match. Tunisia must change their tactics because they can no longer hold on to a draw. Tunisia cannot decide the fate of the penalty shootout.
Ghana, for their part, had a very irregular Africa Cup Of Nations. The performance of the team was not as expected, but they also had some good moments and some really bad ones. Ghana did not find the necessary effectiveness and despite having one of the best teams on the continent, they were eliminated from the tournament early.
The team led by James Appiah will now have to concentrate on preparing the next friendly matches and think about the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022. The most worrying thing for Ghana was the inconsistent football the team showed. Surely there will be restructuring for the immediate future in terms of players in response to their elimination in the round of 16.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the June issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.