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Soccer News of Thursday, 24 November 2022


World Cup: Black Stars face Portugal’s acid test

Black Stars of Ghana   Photo credit: GFA Black Stars of Ghana Photo credit: GFA

One of Africa’s representatives Ghana prepare for a baptism of fire in Qatar when they face Portugal in their World Cup 2022 Group H opener at Doha’s Stadium 974 on Thursday, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.

The Ghanaians return to the World Cup following a short absence in 2018 and only once has the West African side been knocked out from the group stage.

The Black Stars are now back at the Mundial and will already be dreaming of revenge in Group H, with Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez lying in wait 12 years after he wrongfully acted as a goalkeeper to prevent them from reaching the semi-finals.

However, that disappointing exit came in their most recent appearance in 2014, where they bowed out without a win to their name.

The Black Stars also failed to win in any of their three Africa Cup of Nations matches earlier this year, before Otto Addo took the reins.

They booked their ticket to the World Cup by vanquishing rivals Nigeria on the away-goal rule after recording 0-0 in Ghana and 1-1 back in Nigeria in the second leg.

Ghana face a tough test against the Selecao, who are in good form, having won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions and keeping clean sheets in all of those victories, only suffering defeat to Brazil during that run. They impressively overcame Switzerland 2-0 in a friendly last week.

Portugal and Ghana are not total strangers to one another at this level of football, as Cristiano Ronaldo secured a 2-1 win for Selecao when they faced the Black Stars at the 2014 World Cup, and a similar contribution and result here would be expected as he chases a return to form.

The headlines both inside and outside of Portugal in recent days have been dominated by one man, as Manchester United veteran Ronaldo pulled no punches in a scathing attack on the club during an interview with Piers Morgan, which has now resulted in his exit from Old Trafford.

Ronaldo made a surprise appearance at a press conference earlier this week to demand that focus be on the football rather than his actions, as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner desperately seeks to help Portugal finally achieve the big one after several World Cup disappointments.

Despite their status as an iconic football nation, Portugal have only ever progressed to the semi-finals of the World Cup on two occasions in 1966 and 2006, and they have failed to go beyond the last 16 in four of their last five tournaments.

The Europeans bowed out in the last 16 to fellow Group H rivals Uruguay in Russia four years ago and have only posted a poor tally of three wins from their last 11 matches at the World Cup finals, although they warmed up for the competition in an ideal manner by hammering the Super Eagles 4-0 in a recent friendly.

Fast starts have not been a theme of Portugal’s at the World Cup, though, as Santos’s men have failed to win any of their last three opening matches on the biggest international stage, but Ghana must lace up their best shooting boots if they are to breach a defence that has only conceded two goals in their last seven games.

Ronaldo missed Portugal’s warm-up encounter with Nigeria due to an illness but has declared himself fit for the opening match.

With Diogo Jota ruled out of the campaign due to a calf injury, a potent attacking trident is likely to contain Bernardo Silva and one of Rafael Leao or Joao Felix, with the former perhaps the favourite despite not featuring in the Nigeria win.

Santos boasts an exceptionally talented squad at his disposal and the 2016 European champions are expected to have a comfortable opening game against the side sitting at number 61 in the latest FIFA world rankings.

Ghana as usual will come in with a lot of fight boosted by the addition of Athletic Club star forward, Inaki Williams.

You can never rule out anything from this encounter, going by the shock results so far in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Japan’s wins over huge favourites Argentina and Germany respectively.