Portugal v Ghana
Since finishing bottom of their AFCON group, Ghana have responded by edging Nigeria 1-1 to book their ticket for Qatar, drawing twice, winning six and losing to Brazil and Japan, and they will be looking to begin their tournament with a strong result against Portugal on Thursday.
It will be their first World Cup match since June 26, 2014, which saw Ghana concede after a half-hour via an own goal from John Boye and equalize on the cusp of the hour-mark, only for Cristiano Ronaldo to snatch a late winner, with both sides missing out on a place in the last 16. 2018 would see Portugal finish second in their World Cup group before losing 2-1 to Uruguay, whilst Ghana finished behind Egypt and Uganda in their qualifying group and missed out on a spot in Russia.
It looks set to be a fascinating rematch in Qatar, but I’m giving the upper hand to Fernando Santos’ men. Whilst Ghana are still incorporating new players like Iñaki Williams and Tariq Lamptey, Portugal have experience on their side and will be looking to pick up a second consecutive win against a West African side after thrashing Nigeria 4-0 in Lisbon.
With the likes of João Félix, Bruno Fernandes and Otávio forming an impressing creative synergy and João Cancelo and Nuno Mendes chipping in from the fullback positions, I think Portugal will have enough creativity in the tank to undo team that is still learning its trade under new manager Otto Addo.
Portugal have kept four clean sheets in their last six matches, and I would not be surprised to see them do the same as they take on a Ghana side that is still searching for an attacking talisman.
After a dismal showing for the Seleção in last year’s European Championships, Bruno Fernandes is quickly becoming one of Portugal’s most decisive performers. With Portugal missing out on first place and an automatic World Cup qualification, Bruno started in a 3-1 win against Turkey before scoring a brace in a 2-0 win against North Macedonia to book their ticket for Qatar.
Six months later, he grabbed a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win against Czech Republic in the UEFA Nations League, before grabbing a brace in a 4-0 win against Nigeria in Portugal’s final match before the World Cup. He’ll be looking to make it a second straight game with a goal against a West African nation as Portugal take on Ghana, and I’m liking his chances.
Bruno’s creativity and ability to maneuver his way into goal-scoring positions will be crucial against the likes of Thomas Partey and Salis Abdul Samed, and I’m expecting him to cause the Black Stars some trouble.
Ghana will set up to be direct on the attack like they have in the past few games. A lot of Ghana’s chances created under Otto Addo have come from wide areas and fast players like Kamaldeen Sulemana, Fatawu Issahaku and Kamal Sowah will keep Cancelo on his toes.
The Manchester City defender has shown his vulnerability in defence already picking three yellow and red cards this season. Last season, he picked up seven yellow cards and is no stranger to having his name taken down in the referee’s notebook.
With Portugal expected to commit a lot of bodies forward, often including Cancelo himself, he is likely to be forced into tactical fouls throughout the game.
Under Otto Addo, Ghana have controlled games a lot better with the team averaging more than 50% possession in his first nine games. The intent by the German coach is to keep the ball, a philosophy that has often seen his central midfielders drop deep into defence to help recycle possession.
Partey is currently attempting 61.44 passes per 90 this season for Arsenal and although the number is expected to drop whilst playing for Ghana, it should still be in around the 50 mark.
The Black Stars play through the midfielder, and he will see a lot of the ball against a Portuguese team that aren’t too focused on possession.
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