Otto Addo's silly substitutions and not the Ronaldo penalty cost Ghana the match vs Portugal

 Otto Addo was understandably looking for excuses, as losers are expected to, after Ghana’s 2-3 defeat to Portugal in their 2022 Fifa World Cup opener in Qatar.

The Black Stars coach pointed to the penalty given to Cristiano Ronaldo as the turning point of the game, arguing that the American referee “gifted” the world superstar his historic goal that saw him become the first player to score at five World Cup finals.

“I think it was a really wrong decision ... it was a foul against us,” he lamented in the post match media conference, adding  that the goal was “a special gift from the referee”.

Granted it was debatable as to whether Mohammed Salisu really fouled Ronaldo.  But the reality of the matter was that Ghana did not lose that tie in the 63rd minute.

After all, the African team did cancel out that strike via an Andre Ayew equaliser.

It was what happened immediately thereafter, and not the earlier penalty decision, that proved to be the turning point of the game.

Clearly in the game to avoid defeat, Addo had gone with an ultra-defensive 5-3-2 formation that appeared to be working as Ghana managed to keep Portugal at bay.

With the score at 1-1 with about a quarter of an hour remaining, Addo felt his team could play out a stalemate and get the point. And so he decided to make a double change, immediately after the goal.

It was a cardinal error in so many ways.

For starters, football connoisseurs know that one of the most dangerous times in a game is immediately after a goal. Players are always advised by their coaches, teammates on the bench and captains on the pitch to switch on and keep shape after scoring.

The excitement of scoring often leads to teams losing shape and getting punished.

Otto is a former player himself and you’d think he knows this. But no, the Ghana coach decided to make two changes after the goal.

His error was not in just making the substitutions but in who he replaced.

Otto took off the captain and scorer Ayew, his team’s inspirational leader who was pumped up after the equaliser.

He also ejected his best performer on the night, Mohamed Kudus, who had run on just about every blade of grass on the Stadium 974 pitch in his forays into the Portugal half.  

Those changes at such a time meant that Ghana had to make some adjustments on the pitch and they were still at it when Portugal regained the lead. Ayew actually missed the goal, the Ghana captain was still in an embrace with the other substitutes congratulating him for his goal when João Félix slotted home.

Cue shock and frustration on the son of the great Abedi Pele’s face. But he could do nothing to rally and cajole his teammates into a fightback, seated as he was out in the dugout then.

Portugal scored a third via substitute Rafael Leão minutes later and the game was over as a contest.

Addo had some hope after Osman Bukari pulled one back late in the game and then had to look on in disbelief when Inaki Williams stole the ball from goalkeeper Diogo Costa but then slipped before he could take a shot.

The reality, however, was that Ghana had not done enough to get the maximum points and were particularly poor in making use of their counterattacking ploy. The Black Stars caught Portugal on the break on numerous occasions but they always went for the wrong option — to the side when sending the ball behind the opposition’s defensive line appeared the best way to go.

Otto will do well to get his substitutions spot on when they next play against South Korea on Monday if he is to give Ghana a chance of progressing past the group phase.

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