Stage set for King Kwadwo
BLACK Stars coach James Kwesi Appiah picks his words carefully, but you can't accuse him of undue caution in his team selection.
On Sunday in Port Elizabeth, Appiah deployed his prized attacking midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah at left-back - a position he had not occupied for Ghana until the side's warm-up friendlies this month. It was the sort of retread that's usually done as an emergency measure, when your two specialist left-backs are either crocked or suspended.
But Appiah - a former left-back himself - knew what he was doing. During the early skirmishes it looked like a disastrous move: the fired-up Leopards targeted Ghana's left flank with a flurry of agile raids.
The excellent rapport between Tresor Mputu and Lomana Lua-Lua had Asamoah in disarray - and only the brilliant reflexes of keeper Fatawu Dauda and the crossbar saved Ghana from conceding the opening goal.
Towards the end of the first half, the Juventus midfielder found his groove in grand style. Asamoah charged upfield, slipped a delightful short ball to Emanuel Agyemang-Badu, then darted into the box to meet and square the return ball, which Agyemang-Badu tapped home from close range. It was a goal of sumptuous elegance.
And he wasn't done yet. Early in the second half, Asamoah expertly nodded home a corner at the far post to double the Black Stars' lead, and claim his first Nations Cup goal. The game was far from won, of course, as the DRC staged their gutsy two-goal comeback. But Asamoah was not at fault for either Mputu's goal or Dieumerci Mbokani's penalty - and it seems he will stay at left-back for the duration of this campaign.
It remains a risky project, but it could pay off richly for Appiah. It allows him the opportunity to pick talented young Espanyol winger Mubarak Wakaso in front of Asamoah, which means the two could form a lethal attacking axis down the left flank.
The casualty is regular left-back Harrison Afful of Esperance, a solid enough defender, but one who offers little in the way of attacking acumen.
It seems Asamoah is happy with the switch. At Juventus, he normally plays as a wingback in a 3-5-2 formation, with three centrebacks behind him, so he is accustomed to doing his fair share of defensive graft.
But every quality attacking fullback needs a diligent winger ahead of him, who can retreat behind him to cover when necessary - and there must be some doubt as to whether the 21-year-old Wakaso can be depended on to do this.
It doesn't help matters that Ghana's inexperienced centreback duo of Jerry Akaminko and John Boye looked wobbly against the Congolese. Appiah can only pray that the likely return of seasoned holding midfielder Anthony Annan will give his back four a bit more security when they confront Mali on Thursday.
Appiah will also demand more focus and intensity from skipper and striker Asamoah Gyan, who bungled an inviting chance on Sunday. There is no doubting the Al Ain forward's ability, but many Ghanaians are sceptical about his potential to influence and inspire the side. Gyan is too self-regarding and volatile to provide guidance when things go pear-shaped.
In the absence of Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien, the second favourites need a commanding presence in the heart of the team.
There's a vacancy for a new king. By the end of this campaign, Kwadwo Asamoah will have seized that role. It doesn't matter where he plays: he's football royalty.