Match Preview: Ghana v. Uruguay
Stage: Quarterfinal (Round of Eight)
Winner Plays: Holland
Time : 20:30h GMT +1, 2:30 p.m. EST
How to put it simply: This will be a better game than Holland-Brazil and Ghana have qualities that Uruguay doesn't and Uruguay has qualities that Ghana doesn't.
Overshadowed by the titanic Brazil v. Holland clash, this game will not offer less entertaining football, less drama, or lower stakes.
This game might slip under the rug on a Friday night in many homes, but it is one of the most important and historic games of this World Cup. Two very good, highly deserving teams clash for a rite of passage into the semifinals and a potential shot at the third place medal.
Uruguay stands on the threshold of reclaiming their place at the top of the football world after 60 years of obscurity. Their "golden generation" of experienced players is capable of being the dark horses of the World Cup this year.
Ghana's Black Stars are just as capable of becoming the shadow steeds, having played solidly with a young team throughout the tournament and demonstrating the composure and determination to beat the African record of reaching the quarterfinals set by Cameroon in 1990 and repeated by Senegal in 2002, but never surpassed.
Ghana has extensive suspension and injury worries and are likely to be deprived of two very important players—can its talented bench step up at this crucial moment?
FIFA World Ranking: Ghana is 32nd and Uruguay is 16th
Venue: Johannesburg. Soccer City Stadium might be the venue of the final, but with shamefully empty seats at some of the games, I am worried that Ghana and Uruguay will not draw a full house—for a World Cup quarterfinal that is unacceptable.
Additionally, some of the games here have suffered from poor, distant TV coverage, although perhaps Brazil versus Chile showed some improvement. One of the most annoying things about that match was the live editing, where the replays where being broadcast while the ball was in the penalty box, making viewers miss some of the action.
Referee: Olegario Benquerenca from Portugal will officiate. In my opinion he did an average job at best last time, being inconsistent with his cards.
He refereed Japan versus Cameroon, and Nigeria versus South Korea and I though he was slightly biased in favour of the South Korean team, heavily carding the Nigerians and awarding even the lightest fouls to the South Koreans. But my view is subjective at best. He also had the great misfortune of giving a yellow card to Hungarian Miklos Feher in the Portuguese league shortly before he collapsed and died.
Date of Birth: October 18th, 1969
Height: 184 cm or 6'0"
Occupation: Insurance Professional
Native Tongue: Portuguese
Other languages: French, English, Spanish
International Since: 2001
First international: Spain-Paraguay (June 7th, 2002), ironically
Hobbies: Music, singing, racing cars
Fondest memory: FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007
Historical Match Up: The teams have never played in senior competition but met several times with their youth teams in U-17 and U-21 competition. The Ghanaians were more successful in these youth encounters and out of five matches played, they won twice, drew twice and lost once.
In 1999, the 2-2 encounter at the U-20 Championship in Egypt saw four Black Stars and only one Uruguayan player that are presently with the teams.
Suggested Menu With Your Game:
A bit of natural yogurt to help your stomach deal with this riveting encounter!
Unofficial Theme Song to Accompany Style of Play:
The young Ghana team has gotten this far, its time to impose their own style on the world! What better music to accompany them than the indigenous Ghanaian hilp-life music! A relaxed optimistic song Oseiye (nice video find it here) is the official song of the Black Stars national team and goes perfectly for the cautious, measured approach of the first half:
And for the second half the optimistic Ghanaian rhytyms of Reggie Zippy in his hit song that conquered the West African charts Asuboten ! Z
Statistics so far:
Scoring: Four goals for, and three against
Goals for: Two from penalties, one from outside area, one from the inside
Against: one from penalties, one from inside area, one from the outside
67 fouls committed, 38 suffered, including 8 yellow cards
One penalty given away (against the US which Landon Donovan converted)
48 attacks (12 on left, 18 in the center and 18 from the right)—diversified and good in terms of creativity
48.3% percent average ball possession (fine)
445.84 km covered by players (3rd overall)
71% pass completion rate (46% for long, 25% for crosses, 78% for medium, 74% for short, 28% for corners)
Most shots on goal: Asamoah Gyan with 23 (very wasteful)
Highest player statistical-ratings according to the Castrol Index so far:
Right wingback John Pantsil—9.13
Attacking midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah—8.57
Goalkeeper Richard Kingson—8.56
Defender John Mensah—8.49
Tactics: Ghana has deployed an adaptable, flexible, tempo-shifting and balanced 4-5-1 formation under their gremlin-like coach Milovan Rajevac. The little Serbian with a grey complexion has done brilliant things with the fantastic raw material that the Ghana team has provided.
Despite facing many important matches and tournaments without injured super star Michael Essien of Chelsea, unemployed captain and former Juventus player Stephen Appiah, the unavailability of Inter’s Sulley Muntari and a long term injury to key defender John Mensah, Rajevac has turned Ghana into a fantastically effective team. The core of this team stormed through the FIFA World Youth Championships last year, destroying England 4-0 in the process and beating Brazil in the final.
In January, 10 of those young prodigies joined the Senior squad for the African Nations Cup in Angola and only lost to a superb third-consecutive champion, Egypt, in the final after being acclaimed by many as the main performers of the tournament. And, all of this without any of the injured international stars.
Additionally, when Rajevac travelled in February to Milan to see if Mario Balotelli and Suley Muntari of Inter were ready for the World Cup, both stood him up at the meeting not responding to their phones. Subsequently, the temperamental Balotelli has all doors to Ghana blocked and has to depend on an Italy call-up.
Rajevac has introduced a new and innovative style of balanced, creative, progressive and explosive football that has almost never been seen before with this quality in a sub-Saharan team. In their game against Serbia, Ghana won by first stopping the Serbians (Europe’s most successful team in qualification) and on that foundation one of the best defences in the World effectively and surprisingly.
Ghana hold and counter with speed, and an unusual ability to change tempo. Their attacks have been through both sides of the pitch and through the middle, with the 5 midfielders divided into three offensive and two defensive, much like Germany.
This formation is very malleable for a highly capable coach like Rajevac and he inserts clever substitutions to make slight changes and many have been very effective, nearly forcing a draw against Germany and dampening the US efforts towards the end of the game.
Ghana is a fantastic team with an average age below 22, with many highly enduring and highly technical players. The Defense is one of the best ever fielded by a sub-Saharan team, and Kingon, the GK, is highly underrated and highly experienced.
The defensive midfielders can run at top speed for 90 minutes, exhibit exceptional tactical discipline, and the attackers are creative and dangerous. Ghana deserves to get something significant out of this tournament, and its no accident they are in the quarterfinals—but, so does Uruguay.
Strengths: Creativity. Although two very creative players are absent today through suspension and injury, the Ghanaian defence can hold it's own against many offensive teams. The midfield is very organized with clear roles and talents maximized. The movement and position switching is fluid and dangerous to opponents who have to constantly adapt their defensive approach throughout a game. Ghana has an excellent midfield that ranks with even the best of the quarterfinalists.
Weakness: The African achilles-heel is lack of consistency and concentration. It seems to still sit somewhere with this young Ghanaian team. They don’t dive, but they lack composure and get silly cards (example of Andre Ayew against the US who is suspended today without really fouling).
Tactically, the Ghanaian forward Asamoah Gyan is one of those rare players who does very hard things well and usually messes up the simplest things. This is highly frustrating to watch. He has wasted 21 shots on goal so far, and only scored on penalties and had one fantastic goal against the USA. Creativity is not a problem for Ghana, its finishing.
Key to beating Uruguay: Learn from the Koreans, who dominated the game after half time by constantly switching the direction of attack and varying their approaches. A consistent pressing performance can capitalize on the Uruguayan’s questionable passes, preventing them from developing too many offensive opportunities, and eventually breaking the superb Uruguayan defence.
Missing players: The Ghanaian situation is extremely serious.
The superb defender Isaac Vorsah is seemingly still out with injury, and his replacement Jonathan Mensah is suspended giving Rajevac significant headaches. Additionally, key defender John Mensah had injury problems and missed training, but should be fit to play.
Andre Ayew will sadly miss this game. Although he has been superb this tournament, suspension keeps him out, and key player Kevin Prince Boateng is injured and very likely to miss the game. Veteran Stephen Appiah could step in to replace one of the players after his superb substitute appearance versus the US, but he hasn’t played competitive football for 18 months, and is seriously out of form. The much travelled Derek Boateng could step in to replace Kevin Prince today.
Key Squad Members: Richard Kingson is highly underrated, and the old veteran has played at the top level in the Turkish league for years before moving to the Premiership as a backup keeper. He is very commanding between the posts for Ghana this tournament, and his input so far cannot be undervalued, as he has made multitudes of excellent saves against tough opposition.
John Mensah and Hans Sarpei are likely to line-up alongside Lee Addy in defence. Mensah is a rock solid defender, having been in the running for defender of the year in France during his Rennes days. Hans Sarpei has spent a distinctive career in the Bundesliga, and now continues his destructive work stopping the World’s best wingers like Robben at high-flying Bayer Leverkusen.
But, he has struggled with injuries this World Cup. Lee Addy plays for the other Chelsea—Bechem Chelsea in Ghana, but is a mature and effective defender who a European club should soon snap up after good performances in Angola in January and during the qualifiers. He is a great tackler, but has a tendency to pick up cards.
Anthony Annan was the subject of mockery by European journalists when it was suggested he could replace Michael Essien on the Ghana team for the World Cup. The Rosenborg man has not replaced the Chelsea star, but instead has supplanted him with tireless defensive midfield coverage, which managed to stop Serbia and Germany. His incisive passing, superb sense of tempo and his tremendous work is inglorious. It almost goes unnoticed, but Annan has been a significant part of Ghana’s success.
Kwadwo Asamoah one of the great rising stars in football. He was instrumental in several key matches for Udinese in the Italian Serie A last year, with rapid, strong, penetrating runs through the midfield from his deep lying position. His powerful shooting and creative passing can be an asset for any team, and the 23 year old is superb for Ghana.
Possibly of Starting: Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah are two Serie A veterans that could step in and make appearances today. Appiah was among the best defensive midfielders in the World, and had an extraordinary World Cup in 2006 in Germany, with powerful long range shots, dribbling and passing, which saw him through successful spells at Udinese, Juventus and Fenerbahce. But, it then ended up with him being out of contract for a year and joining Seria A strugglers Bologna, but not playing. Muntari was dropped by Jose Mourinho during last fall’s Ramadan, and stayed out of Inter's first team most of the year. Although he is a superbly talented player, he is seriously out of form from being used only as a sub by Rajevac.
Weakest Link: Besides the tremendous amount of suspensions and injuries, Asamoah Gyan is probably Ghana’s weakest link. Highly respected for his ability to score incredible, unexpected goals in regular intervals of time, he experiences very long dry spells, which are often highlighted by spectacular misses of simple finishing, and real wastefulness up front. Don’t be surprised if he knocks in a long-range curling stunner though—he usually hits several a year.
Unofficial Theme Song to Accompany Style of Play:
A trip down memory lane with Uruguay band Chocolate’s 2000 hit Mayonesa (here) —this will go great with the rhythm that the Orientales have found, and the great atmosphere in their camp. Not to mention, the rhythm they need to keep up today to beat the tough opposition of Ghana.
Statistics so far:
Scoring: Six goals for and one against
Goals for: One from penalty, One from outside area, and four from inside
Against: One from inside area
48 fouls committed, 65 suffered with three yellow cards and one second yellow for red (Lodeiro)
Zero penalties given away
42 attacks (14 on left, 6 in the center and 22 from the right)
8 offsides calls
45.8% percent average ball possession (low)
65% pass completion rate – rather poor (43% for long, 22% for crosses (poor), 71% for medium, 70% for short, 14% for corners)
Most Shots on Net: Luis Suarez with 15 and Diego Forlan with 14
Highest player statistical-ratings according to the Castrol Index so far (very defensive):
Right wingback/winger Maxi Pereirra—9.43
Left wingback/winger Alvaro Pereirra—9.10
Central defender Diego Lugano—9.08
Defensive midfielder Egidio Arevalo—8.87
Tactics: Accused sometimes of playing dirty football, Uruguay's "tough, but non-referee-conning non opponent-injuring play" is similar to Spain's “Jugar con Garra.” This Garra has been instrumental in defence and offense so far, and Uruguay have been one of the smoothest advancing teams in this competition.
Oscar Washington Tabarez has taken Uruguay’s superb backline raw material and constructed a defensive wall, which was un-breached in the group phase—only conceding a sloppy South Korean goal after long pressure.
Uruguay’s formation is based around a 4-3-3 with two defensive midfielders and three excellent, well-cooperating attackers—Luis Suarez on the left, Diego Forlan in the center and Edison Cavani on the right. The two defensive midfielders, Diego Perez of Monaco and Egidio Alvarez of the Uruguayan giants, Penarol, have kept a very effective shield against central attacks and recuperated an excellent amount of balls to re-launch the three-pronged attack very successfully.
Uruguay has been very effective in creating good scoring chances, but has sometimes been wasteful on “excessively” creative passing, which could account for their low pass completion percentage.
Strengths: A superb defensive block, and a superb attacking punch. The skill of their attackers and defenders is good enough for some of the top clubs in the World, and has revealed itself unspoiled in South Africa. With Diego Forlan’s twitter and youtube channel broadcasting the happy, laid-back atmosphere of the Uruguayan team, there is something England and Italy could learn from.
Weaknesses: Uruguay’s great form suddenly slipped to South Korea in the round of 16, and they let themselves be dominated for the better part of the second half before a couple of substitutions by Tabarez helped them regain the initiative. They can be overcome, and were more-than-beatable in the qualifiers taking the last South American spot.
Uruguay’s weakness is mainly in the lack of midfield creativity, and if an opponent manages to keep the ball away from their great defensive midfielders, then they can bombard the Uruguayan goal.
Additionally, although discipline has not been an issue, temper and cards can be a problem for Los Orientales with Fucile, Lugano and Victorino all-too-familiar with the colour red.
Key to beating Ghana: Frustrate the Ghanaian forwards in their attempts, as they have been inefficient in front of goal so far. And, be careful not to press Ghana too much as they are one of those teams that seem to play better under pressure—as the US learned.
Missing Players: Left winger Alvaro Pereirra is questionable for today’s encounter due to injury and could be replaced by Alvaro Fernandez. Diego Godin will miss out on his excellent three clean-sheet partnership with Diego Lugano through injury, and should be again replaced by Mauricio Victorino or much less likely by Fernando Caceres of Juventus.
Key Squad Members:
Fernando Muslera, the young Lazio goalkeeper, made waves in the tournament with his Group A clean sheet. It would serve him well that the Korean goal be taken as evidence that the defence is not infallible. His shot stopping and reflexes are excellent, although he can be vulnerable to crosses and corners.
Diego Lugano is a world class defender, but his Garra has kept him from joining a top international club. He has been very successfully playing his trade with Turkish giants Fenerbahce. His tackling and marking is excellent, and he is a danger in the air on corners, although Uruguay has been struggling in that department.
Diego Perez has performed the silent defensive midfield work faultlessly for Uruguay, tackling and recovering lost balls while putting the breaks on opposition counter-attacks. His performances have been fantastic this tournament, but he has problems going forward effectively, on top of little talent in the offensive department.
Diego Forlan is not-unexpectedly emerging as something of a top performing star of this tournament. His ability to occupy an entire defence single-handedly, always find space for a thundering shot, in and outside of the box, and his creative, superb passing (like the sublime assist for the first goal against South Korea) easily make him a candidate for player of the tournament so far—his fantastic career deserves nothing less.
Forlan, unlike other star strikers in other teams (Rooney or Anelka should take notes), has been the center of team building in the Uruguay camp—taking videos, posting them on youtube and twittering his fans. He is known to be an easygoing, hardworking and nice guy despite his top-celebrity status in his country.
Weakest link: The defensive midfielders Diego Perez and Egidio Alvarez are key for the team, but they are very defensive and don’t have the ability to contribute to attack. Also, the injury of Diego Godin in defence is very hard to replace with similar quality.
Expected Result: Uruguay are favourites to win this contest, especially due to Ghana’s absent key players. 2-0
A Slight Surprise: An extended draw and stalemate leading into extra time with Uruguay doing what South Americans do best: penalties.
A real shocker: Either team demolished the other.
Obi Wan Asterix Says: The absence of Kevin Prince Boateng and Andre Ayew worry me for Ghana even though I know they have a superb bench. Will captain Stephen Appiah step up and wield his considerable ability and experience to squeeze his team to glory? My logic says Uruguay will take this 2-1, I love both teams, have spent lovely times in Uruguay and studied with wonderful Ghanaians so either team going through will have earned it... this game is more about the means than the results.