*Kick-Off: Friday, July 1, 19:30 BST
*Soccer City, Johannesburg
After a 40-year absence from the World Cup quarter-finals, Uruguay - winners of the competition in 1930 and 1950 - have made a spectacular return to football’s greatest stage. Only 90 minutes against Ghana stand between the Celeste and a first semi-final appearance since Mexico 1970.
Oscar Tabarez has his team well drilled at the back and boasting one of the most potent strike-forces in the competition at the other end of the pitch. When Lee Chung-Yong scored his scrappy header for South Korea in the last-16 affair, it was the first time the Celeste had leaked during the tournament. Rocked by this blow, Luis Suarez scored a terrific curling shot with 10 minutes to play, his second goal of the match, to book a place for Uruguay in the last eight.
Thus far, Tabarez has managed to stay pretty cool over the enormity of what his side could achieve this summer. The semi-finals are within Uruguay’s grasp, but the coach has managed to remain humble.
He said: “Before we began this World Cup, we saw this great harmony among the players and I said to them ‘The people back home have aspirations, they have dreams and we have to deliver them'.
“We all have objectives, both professional and personal, and our objective is to go as far as we can in this tournament.”
It could be argued that Uruguay have yet to face top quality opposition this summer. France - who they met in the group stages - were fantastically disappointing, while Mexico, South Africa and South Korea are solid but unspectacular teams at such a level. Indeed, it could even be argued that the Black Stars will be the Celeste’s toughest test to date.
Ghana became only the third African side in history to reach the World Cup quarter-finals when they defeated the USA 2-1 after extra-time last Saturday evening. Milovan Rajevac’s side emulated the efforts of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 with their dramatic success, which came about thanks to Asamoah Gyan’s sweetly struck shot early in the additional 30-minute period.
Like Uruguay, the Black Stars have benefitted greatly from their defensive organisation. In the tournament to date the African side have let in only two goals, though unlike their South American counterparts, they’ve proved fallible, having been defeated by Germany in the group stage.
Alone in shouldering the burden of African hopes, Ghana could break new ground in the competition by reaching the last four – a landmark as yet unattained by a side from the continent. Rajevac is cool under the pressure, however.
“We are not thinking about the pressure,” he told the media, according to FIFA’s official website. “We played very well at the African Nations so we have already proved that we are a team that knows how to compete. We will try to relax. You know it is good for us to be here. We are very happy with the whole situation.
“We have no obligation but still we want to use this opportunity to do our best and to make history. We have a lot of new players but they are all growing in confidence and they are all doing their best. The unity of the team is the most important quality we have. We just take one match at a time and try to do our best. Of course, sometimes you feel a little pressure. This is the highest level there is but we just try to do our best every match. We give the maximum.”
Positively overflowing with youthful exuberance and desire, Ghana have successfully reconciled those attributes with a pragmatism, harnessing the team’s desire to entertain but at the same time allowing them to enjoy more pleasing results. The Black Stars are sure to be competitive in this fixture as a result.
Never Ghana give you up | Africans battled past the USA in knockout phase
|Uruguay 2-1 South Korea
||Ghana 2-1 USA
|Uruguay 1-0 Mexico
||Ghana 0-1 Germany
|South Africa -0 Uruguay
||Australia 1-1 Ghana
|Uruguay 0-0 France
||Ghana 1-0 Serbia
|Uruguay 4-1 Israel
||Ghana 1-0 Latvia
Oscar Tabarez won’t change his squad greatly from the side that defeated South Korea, though Diego Godin is unlikely to feature in any capacity due to injury. Alvaro Fernandez is expected to replace Alvaro Pereira in midfield.
Uruguay have been extremely disciplined, picking up only three yellow cards to date and therefore eliminating the problems of suspensions.
Probable lineup (4-4-2): Muslera; M. Pereira, Lugano, Victorino, Fucile; Perez, Arevalo, Fernandez; Cavani; Suarez, Forlan
The Black Stars have a couple of suspension problems, with Jonathan Mensah and Andre Ayew both due to miss this fixture due to picking up their second yellow cards of the tournament last time out.
John Mensah has also missed training but is fully expected to start. Kevin-Prince Boateng, on the other hand, is liable to miss out and will be replaced by Derek Boateng or Rahim Ayew.
Probable lineup (4-4-1-1): Kingson; Pantsil, Mensah, Vorsah, Sarpei; Inkoom, Annan, D. Boateng, Muntari; Asamoah; Ayew
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Luis Suarez scored freely for Ajax last season and has started to do the same for his country. After a low-key start to the World Cup, he stole some of Diego Forlan’s thunder last weekend and proved once and for all that Oscar Tabarez’s outfit are by no means a one-man team. If the 23-year-old replicates such form, the Celeste will surely be celebrating a victory come Friday night.
Asamoah Gyan proved to be the Black Stars’ saviour last Saturday night, battering home a fine strike in extra-time to guide them through to victory over the USA. To date the Ghanaian forward has had a career punctuated by injury problems, but if he can continue to find the net he will quickly have himself back on the map. Can be a little wasteful in front of goal, but hasn’t shown that darker side to his game in the World Cup to date.
In this battle of the underdogs, Uruguay are the significant favourites. Indeed, the Castrol World Cup Match Predictor gives them a 73 per cent chance of progressing. Don’t write off the Black Stars too quickly, as they’ve already shown that they can beat the odds in this World Cup. The Celeste’s rock steady defence may prove a little too much for the young Africans, however.
Uruguay 2-0 Ghana
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