The FIFA World Cup in Qatar kicked off amid much joy and pomp on Sunday and since then the quality of football on the show has not disappointed. Some very tasty and fiery matches have been played out with some upsets and many beautiful goals scored. The World Cup has a similarly spicy clash coming up on Thursday, with one of the heavy hitters in the tournament, Portugal, set to take on Ghana in the second fixture of Group H.
Portugal have an air of uncertainty surrounding them coming into the tournament with all the noise around their captain Cristiano Ronaldo following his explosive interview in the days leading up to the World Cup. Although the interview did not have anything to do with his national team, there is understandably a certain nervy atmosphere in and around the squad. However, the team will be looking to put all those doubts to rest as they prepare to open their World Cup campaign. Their best result at a World Cup tournament has been a third-place finish in the 1966 edition, after which they have been knocked out of the group stages three times out of the six times they have qualified for the tournament since. They have arguably their best squad since 2006, and there is a feeling among many that this could be the year they can finally have a good strong run in the Cup.
Ghana on the other hand are playing in just their fourth World Cup, having last played in Brazil in 2014. They were knocked out of the group stage on that occasion, but in the previous edition in 2010 in South Africa, the Black Stars had a very impressive World Cup, going all the way to the quarter-finals when they were knocked out by Uruguay in a controversial game. Ghana coach Otto Addo has insisted that his squad has a good balance of youth and experience and is capable of springing a few surprises on the favorites. They are the underdogs of Group H and it will be a hard task for them to progress to the knockout stages. They face a very strong Portugal team on Thursday, and all eyes will be on the game to see how both teams fare.
When & Where?
Date: Thursday, 24th November 2022.
Time: 7.00 pm local time
Venue: Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar.
Portugal’s captain and veteran Cristiano Ronaldo missed the friendly against Nigeria just before the start of the World Cup with an illness, but has been declared fit for Thursday’s game. There are no injury concerns for Fernando Santos as he will look to name his best 11 to take on Ghana.
Ghana has all their players well rested and fit for the big clash against group favorites Portugal. The Black Stars’ coach Addo will have a number of key decisions to make ahead of Thursday and will similarly look to put out a lineup capable of stopping the potent Portugal attack.
When Group H was drawn it was instantly termed as the famed ‘Group of Death’, with a foursome of Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea all vying for the top two spots. Portugal are the overwhelming favorites to top the group given the obvious talent and quality present in their squad with Uruguay and South Korea close behind. Not many have predicted Ghana to have the best of times in Qatar, but if the World Cup has proved anything over the years, it is that the underdogs are always capable of showing up on the biggest stage in football.
Portugal have played extensively with a 4-3-3, with Santos deploying Ronaldo to lead the attack. Santos is blessed with Bernardo Silva in his squad, whose versatility gives him great options in attack and midfield. Silva can play both roles brilliantly as he does for his club, and will be needed to work in tandem with Bruno Fernandes to create chances for Ronaldo and Co. Portugal have a squad that has no obvious weaknesses, with big and talented names filled in each and every position. They will be a heavy opposition for Ghana, but the Black Stars have a solid defense, which they will look to utilize to keep the Portuguese attack at bay.
Daniel Amartey for Ghana has become an undroppable figure in that Ghana defense and he will be tasked with leading them against the potent Portugal attack. Ghana have another ace up their sleeves in the form of Inaki Williams, who has made a name for himself at Athletic Bilbao. He is very fast and his finishing skills are a marvel. However, the Ghana midfield have failed to provide him with consistent service, which Santos and his men will look to capitalize on. Williams versus Ruben Dias and Pepe, the predicted Portuguese center-back partnership, will be a key battle to keep an eye on.
Ghana coach Addo has been criticized for chopping and changing his tactics frequently, which has left fans and players bewildered at times. It remains to see the lineup he names for the opening game, with many pundits predicting different lineups. It has made Ghana something of an unknown quantity, but Portugal will be wary of the threat they possess, with the likes of Mohammed Kudus capable of unsettling defenses on his own as has been evident from him this season at Ajax.
Group H is a very tough group, and to qualify for the next round, neither nation can afford to drop points. It will be a very interesting watch on Thursday, with Portugal expected to come out on top, but Ghana tipped to put up a very strong fight.
Premier League Players to look out for
The Manchester United midfielder looked in good form in the league just before the break, scoring a goal and providing an assist in their second last game, but making things happen all over the pitch for the Red Devils. He has not been among the goals as much as he usually is, but Bruno has become indispensable under Erik ten Hag who values the Portuguese a lot. Fernando Santos has played him in a deeper role at times, where he struggles, but he looked at his old best in their friendly against Nigeria last week, scoring two goals for Portugal. There will be lesser burden of chance creation on him with the likes of Bernardo Silva and Ruben Neves present.
Manchester United and Portugal number 7 has been in the news for more than two weeks with news of the club considering legal action against him for his interview. Ronaldo incurred the wrath of many fans and pundits following that incident, but he insists his mind is clear and focused on having a good World Cup which will be his last. At 38 years of age, it remains to see if Ronaldo can rediscover his touch and form to inspire Portugal to glory.
The strong Manchester City defender has been colossal at the back for his club and along with his teammate Joao Cancelo, the two have formed a very good understanding and partnership. As a result, Fernando Santos has played the two on the right side, with Cancelo taking up the right-back role and Dias slotting into the right center-back role. Dias has a wonderful ability to read the game and intercept dangerous passes at the right moment, and he will be crucial to Portugal for a good tournament.
The Brighton & Hove Albion wing-back had taken the footballing world by storm after he burst onto the scene. However, he could not find a place in the England squad, leading him to look for opportunities with Ghana. He has become one of the first names on the teamsheet for Otto Addo, at such a young age, and the Black Stars will be looking at him to shore up the defense and also supplement the attack. He is very good on the ball and his pace is very lethal on the counter.
Partey is having one of the best seasons of his career with Arsenal, leading the Premier League before the break. They are on course for the first title in almost 20 years, and Partey has been a crucial figure in the Gunners’ midfield. He is experienced and brings a certain calmness to the Ghana midfield as well, breaking up opposition attacks and winning the ball back. Ghana fans will hope that Partey can replicate his club form for his country and help them have a good World Cup.
Portugal predicted XI vs Ghana: Diogo Costa; Joao Cancelo, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro; Ruben Neves, William Carvalho, Bruno Fernandes; Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Leao.
Ghana predicted XI vs Portugal: Lawrence Ati-Zigi; Tariq Lamptey, Daniel Amartey, Alexander Djiku, Baba Rahman; Thomas Partey, Salis Abdul Samed; Kamaldeen Sulemana, Mohammed Kudus, Jordan Ayew; Inaki Williams.