While Ghana will aim to become the first African team to reach the semis, Uruguay will be looking to relive their glory days (from over half a century ago) when they became the first nation to win the World Cup (twice, as well).
To put this all into perspective though, neither team could have played easier opponents in the quarter finals… and the Round of 16. (They’ve avoided Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Holland… a perfect 5/5 of the strong teams left in the competition)
Uruguay have had their moments. With a slow, dead draw against France (well, we all know who the blame falls on for that one…) Uruguay have gone from strength to strength and will probably fancy themselves making the semis. The past four world cups have been won by teams that haven’t conceded any goals in the group stage and of the teams still left in the competition, only Uruguay fits the bill. Although a World Cup win may be a far cry, Uruguay can count on their slow, methodical game and their 3 man defence (whenever employed). Up front, Forlan and Suarez have regularly found the back of the net and how they fare against Kingson will definitely be a battle worth watching.
Okay, so first up, the biggest talking point of this match so far has been that Uruguay have already released their starting eleven… ALREADY! (Hello to the mind games)
This is the team their coach has named to face Ghana:
(4-3-1-2) Muslera; Maxi Pereira, Lugano, Victorino, Fucile; Alvaro Fernández, Diego Pérez, Arévalo Ríos; Diego Forlán; Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez.
Diego Godin has been ruled out with an injury (you can almost sense Ghana’s relief there), and Victorino will take his place.
Fernando Muslera, who has been beaten just once in four games (from a free-kick against the Koreans) starts in goal behind a back four of Maxi Pereira, Diego Lugano, Victorino and Jorge Fucile. The defence is more than capable of sitting back and absorbing pressure, which was evident when they did just that after taking the lead against the Koreans. So if Uruguay does take the lead, expect… just the same. That said, their defence will have to be on alert against Ghana’s pacy and explosive counter-attacks. Ghana’s counters have been the stuff of highlights throughout the tournament, and it’s impossible to see them scoring any other way (except when they get penalties, which they seem to be mighty good at).
Uruguay’s midfield will have the task of isolating Gyan up front by cutting the supply to him from Ghana’s mid-field, and of course getting the ball to Uruguay’s attackers.
Against Korea, Uruguay dominated the midfield battle, and their two central midfielders -Egidio Arevalo-Rios and Diego Perez played very solid roles and played simple balls forward and into wide areas. Alvaro Pereira played as a carrilero(winger), starting in a central position before moving into a wide-left role. That made the formation 4-2-4 when he moved front (to support Uruguay’s attacking trident), and it could also shift to 3-4-3 when Maxi Pereira motored down the right, allowing Cavani to move to a more central position (when he’s not busy switching wings that is).
And up front – that’s where Uruguay has set the tournament on fire. If anyone expected any less, they were only fooling themselves. Forlan has scored 2 goals in the Europa League finals, and Suarez, captain of Ajax, has scored 49 goals from 48 matches (Note: However good this guy is, the Dutch league is rubbish). Together they have contributed 5 goals so far in this tournament, and they hold the key to Uruguay’s success in this tournament.
One football blogger described Uruguay’s attack as more or less ‘ A poor man’s Argentina’. Forlan marshals the attacks, and plays a somewhat central role, though drifts into positions whenever he can from where he things he can shoot at goal or set up his team-mates. He forces opponents to mark him heavily, thus gifting his team-mates, Suarez in particular, space and time. Forlan has been a prominent figure in every Uruguayan attack at the Cup so far. In the Round of 16, Korea fell into this “trap” and paid dearly, having equalized just minutes before. Suarez keeps getting himself into cozy positions to tap in Forlan’s rebounds or bundle home his passes and behind them, Cavani switches wings and provides decent support, making himself a nuisance for opponents. None of them are restricted by a particular position, and the fluidity which they posses in attack is noteworthy.
Ghana has been mighty impressive throughout the tournament. Disciplined and well-organized, their team-spirit is on full show for all to see as they pull in for their team huddle before leaving the pitch at half-time. Their pace and power has allowed them to hit teams on the counter (just ask USA) and with a dash of explosiveness and direct running, they can be fascinating to watch – if only for brief moments. Their Serbian coach… err… Milovan Rajevac (had to google this >_<) has to be complimented for instilling in them a great sense of positional awareness and confidence. Unlike the other African teams, Ghana have been disciplined throughout the tournament. This is very well illustrated when we consider Muntari, who was a part of the Inter team that won the treble last season, but can’t land a starting spot in the team because of his tantrums! Ghana FA acknowledges this as the President Kwesi Nyantakyi says: If “Sulley Muntari misbehaves again, he will be thrown out.” They play like they value and respect the grandest stage of them all and their adventure so far has been helped greatly by their goalkeeper, Kingson.
Jonathan Mensah will be suspended for the Uruguay match, so Ghana’s defence will probably be John Mensah (who will be okay despite missing training), Isaac Vorsah, John Panstil and Hans Adu-Sarpei. Ghana’s defence will probably have their busiest night yet, against the dangerous combination of Forlan and Suarez. The trick is to not let them shoot, and ensure that their backs are towards the goal at all times. Abidal and Gallas proved that this was the technique to prevent them from scoring, and Mensah and Vorsah should take note. In the midfield, Anthony Annan, who has been impressive so far, will be given the responsibility of dictating play and stopping Rios, in particular.
The biggest blow for Ghana is that Kevin Prince Boateng will most likely miss the match due to a ruptured tendon. So Asamoah will play, and Rahim Ayew or Derek Boateng might be a replacement for Prince. Andre Ayew will also miss the match through suspension, and if anything, he will be missed for the able support he provides at the front for Gyan and Asamoah, and so Sulley Muntari might finally start. It’s disappointing how he would have most probably got a starting spot in this Ghana line-up, if it was not for his indiscipline. That said, I think Ghana’s coach might be expecting a big game from Muntari, and let’s see if he is worth the trouble now. Inkoom, who usually plays as a right-back, started on the right midfield against the US, and he will have to be at his best to outfox Jorge Fucile.
And up front is Ghana’s brightest spot of the WC so far – Asamoah Gyan(God is it just me or does Ghana have 2 players sharing a name in almost every position… Ghana could probably fax their starting line-up to Uruguay’s coach and he wouldn’t have the slightest clue who is ACTUALLY starting!)
Gyan in particular has been stunning, with some delicate back heels in the box making Ghana’s attacks rather unfruitful fun to watch. His solo effort against the Americans, where he got past two defenders before sending the ball past Tim Howard, was reminiscent of runs by the great Ronaldo.
Gyan is bound to get a couple of decent chances in the match, and whether he converts them is what I think will settle this battle.
Uruguay should be able to control the tempo of the game and Ghana will have to be content with sitting back and waiting to go for their dangerous counter-attack. Ghana’s midfield pressed high up the pitch against USA and they can be expected to continue doing that against Uruguay.
With Ghana finally scoring goals from open-play against the US, their forwards will be raring to go and with their playing styles, this could be a very open game. It will be interesting to see just how much Ghana miss their injured/suspended players. Ultimately, this game will be won by the team that makes fewer mistakes.