Over last weekend, Ghana and Portugal played in matches that both ended in 2-2 draws, keeping their World Cup hopes alive. In their first meeting against each other, Group G’s underachievers have one more chance to redeem themselves while potentially advancing to the knockout stage.
Heading into the tournament, many believed Cristiano Ronaldo was going to dominate the World Cup and move himself up the list all fans and pundits personally have of the greatest soccer players of all time, especially after winning his second Ballon d’Or and another Champions League title. Unfortunately, he’s had a tendinitis issue in his left knee for at least three months which has shown in his quality of play. The three-time European Golden Shoe winner’s country doesn’t have the most talented team and he had to carry them into the World Cup by outscoring Zlatan Ibrahimovic 4-2 in a two-legged play-off which saw Portugal get in the tournament over Sweden so he hasn’t had the benefit of someone else being able to step up to catapult the squad to success.
Cristiano’s performances so far have left much more to be desired but the 29-year-old still delivered a perfectly weighted ball in a cross, a skill he barely uses anymore, during the very last moment of the game against the United States which winger Silvestre Varela headed in to give their homeland a slim but definite opportunity to advance.
The side has other injury issues with midfielder Andre Almeida, striker Hugo Almeida, goalkeeper Rui Patricio and striker Helder Postiga attempting to make themselves available for the match while full-back Fabio Coentrao has been knocked out the competition with a thigh injury. Real Madrid’s hot-headed defender Pepe returns after a disciplinary suspension and believes his country has what it takes to advance.
“I do believe in miracles. I think we can still make it. It will be difficult, but we have to fight. Portugal have always been willing to fight and we will do just that against Ghana, even with all the difficulties we have been experiencing. We know that Ghana have very fast players, especially on the wings. They have an amazing attack. But we also know that they need a win as well in order to qualify. We will have to give our all,” said Pepe in a pre-match press conference.
Ghana, on the other hand, haven’t lived up to their own expectations by losing to the United States in the opening match 2-1 and having a stalemate against Germany. Many distractions have been around the team with reports of the FA president being accused of match fixing international friendlies, the players planning a revolt on manager Kwesi Appiah following a loss to the Americans and players failing to receive payment and potentially boycotting the match against Portugal.
Kwesi Nyantakyi, Ghana’s FA president, has denied the allegations on him and plans to sue the Daily Telegraph because they first broke the news, Appiah said he’s resolved all the issues with players including midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and Ghana’s actual President John Dramani Mahama had to send a plane full of cash to make sure the players didn’t protest their game against Portugal. Winger Christian Atsu believes they can put all the drama behind them to focus and get a victory.
“I think there are a lot of issues that have complicated things for Ghana. But the players are focused on tomorrow’s game. We have sat together to discuss everything. Our captain spoke to us. We have to put all this behind us and focus on tomorrow’s game. This game is vital for all Ghanaians. If we lose this game, people think it will be because of the money. We must do the nation proud,” said Atsu in a pre-match press conference.
Boateng and defender John Boye couldn’t practice earlier in the week due to knocks picked up against Germany but both have now been cleared and should be ready to play. Like Portugal’s over reliance on Ronaldo, the Black Stars suffer the same issue when it comes to captain and striker Asamoah Gyan. With his goal against Germany, Gyan tied African legend Roger Milla with five career World Cup goals to be the all-time leader by an African in the tournament. Midfielder and winger Andre Ayew has stepped up by scoring two goals in the competition but other players need to contribute in the attack for Ghana to defeat a good opponent.
Both countries hope Germany will beat the Yankees but will not have the benefit of knowing their situation as their match will be occurring at the same time. Portugal needs more help as they suffer a goal differential of minus four and need to thrash the Black Stars while hoping Die Mannschaft wins comfortably over the United States. Ghana needs to defeat the Portuguese by at least two goals or depend on the Germans to defeat the Yankees convincingly to move forward to the knockout stage.
The two nations each have reputations on their respective continents as being underachievers despite producing incredible talent for decades. Portugal has never won a World Cup or European championship including the infamous Euro 2004 final loss to Greece on their own home soil with their ‘golden generation.’ Ghana earned the moniker “the Brazil of Africa” after winning their fourth African Cup of Nations in 1982 but have failed to win the tournament since then even though the country are currently fielding their own golden generation and participating in their third consecutive World Cup appearance after never appearing in the tournament. Regardless of what happens between Germany and the U.S., both teams will play hard to end the group stage with dignity and earn back the respect of their fans after they had high hopes of advancing deep into the World Cup.
Prediction: Ghana 2-1 Portugal