Grant’s Gyan gamble looks set to cost Black Stars

Avram Grant Afcon 2017
The Israeli coach opted to play many of his big guns against Egypt, a risky move that didn’t pay off

Ahead of Ghana’s final Nations Cup Group D match against Egypt on Wednesday, Avram Grant had a big decision to make.

Did he shuffle his pack, play a second string as Senegal had done two nights’ before against Algeria, and rest his key stars?

Or should he stick with a strong XI, ensure that the Black Stars gave themselves the best chance of success, and keep the momentum going heading into the knockout stages? Indeed, it surely would have been a major boost for the West Africans had they reached the quarter-finals as the only side left standing in the competition with a 100 percent record.

A strong case could be made for either approach, while Grant’s decision was always going to be judged retrospectively, depending on what happens in the quarter-final.

Play a strong team and go out in the quarter-finals; the manager has made the wrong decision as he’s not taken the opportunity to rest players.

Play a weakened team against Egypt and then fall in the next round; Grant has overseen a drop off in intensity, missed the opportunity to keep the momentum going, and he’s a pariah again.

Ostensibly, the former Chelsea boss was in a tricky situation, and I don’t envy him that.

However, there are two factors that surely should have made this something of a no-brainer for Grant.

If, worst-case scenario, Ghana were to lose against Egypt, they would both have the opportunity to escape the dreadful pitch at Port-Gentil—a surface that has already claimed the season of Abdul Rahman Baba—and they would avoid Morocco in the next round.

gyan vs egypt afcon 2017

While the Atlas Lions, man for man, aren’t superior to Ghana, there’s every reason why the Black Stars would be keen to avoid a premature reunion with Herve Renard, the man who ended their Afcon dreams in Bata two years ago and, as a former assistant coach of the national side, may know the West Africans’ weaknesses better than most.

In the end, while Grant’s Ghana did contrive to avoid Morocco, they did so in the worst way possible—with a defeat, and with a potentially costly injury to star man Asamoah Gyan.

As I write this, the Black Stars’ talismanic forward is in Libreville where he’s set for tests on a suspected hamstring injury.

The attacker, tantalisingly on the brink of his 100th appearance for the national side, was withdrawn during the first half of Ghana’s 1-0 loss, after clutching his hamstring—an all too familiar sight—and gesturing to the bench.

Perhaps Gyan’s Afcon is over, perhaps he won’t be available for the quarter-finals—a bitter blow after his last major tournament was savaged by malaria—but even if he does return, this was an all-too predictable outcome that Grant should have foreseen.

Over the last two years, the Israeli coach has failed to get his all-star attacking trio of Gyan, Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu on the field together. Ghana’s opening victory against Mali was the first time the three had started a game alongside each other for the first time since the final against the Cote d’Ivoire in 2015.

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In the interim, the Black Stars have consistently struggled to pose a consistent attacking threat to opponents. With Waris Majeed and Raphael Dwamena left at home, Grant should be wrapping his star men up in cotton wool and ensuring that their hamstrings, knees and every other part of their body is in pristine condition for the matches to come.

Playing all three—and particularly the injury-prone Gyan—was a reckless decision by the manager, particularly on that Port-Gentil pitch and against a tough Egyptian side who needed to get a result.

With the Black Stars hardly blessed in the offensive department, it’s a misstep that may well prove costly for Grant and Ghana.