Kick-off: Friday, 2nd July – 7:30pm
Venue: Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
World Cup Quarter-Final
La Celeste are former World Cup winners back in 1930 and 1950, so the dizzy heights of the quarter-finals shouldn’t really leave a nation speechless at the inroads their iconic figures have made thus far. It does though, as not since 1990 had Uruguay last qualified for the last-sixteen stage of the competition while it was a further 20 years back since they last made the semi-finals. 40 years on and Uruguay are set to reach the same stage, a part of the tournament very few predicted they would make but an avenue has been presented to them and my how they’ve grasped their opportunities with both hands.
Strangely enough, Ghana shouldn’t present them with a too unfamiliar challenge despite having never played the African team before in an international. Uruguay, who lined up in Group A and did eventually top that group with two wins and a draw, have already pitted themselves against some African spirit in South Africa (3-0), the technical Mexicans (1-0), the disciplined and hard-working South Korea (2-1) as well as one of the pre-tournament favourites in France. So you could say the South Americans have had a taste of everything and that they should really be able to withstand whatever is thrown at them from a Ghana direction.
Coach Oscar Tabarez has done a fabulous job in getting his troops this far in the tournament, further than a whole host of big named footballing nations we could mention, but is indebted to his deadly striking duo of Diego Forlan (2 Goals) and Luis Suarez (3 Goals), who between them account for all but one of their tournament goals. Even before the tournament a lot was made of Uruguay’s forward inventory and how their European-based pair had the potential to fire them deep into the tournament, but what Tabarez has in Forlan and Suarez is two proven match winners and so long as they continue to do the basics right, defending to a high standard especially, then Uruguay will have every confidence in becoming the first country to book their last-four ticket.
The ‘Black Stars’ have been harbouring the hopes of an entire continent ever since the group stages came to a climax, with Milovan Rajevac side the only African country to make it out of the groups after finishing second behind Germany in a fiercely competitive Group D. In hindsight, Ghana should have been the obvious selection, as even without influential figure Michael Essien Ghana are the better footballing nation in regards to technical ability and teamwork. Heck, it was only in January that they were coming to terms with a bitter defeat to Egypt in the African Cup of Nations finals, so they certainly had the credentials, the potential to shine, and they’ve now fulfilled that to some degree. But with no African team ever reaching the semi-finals of a World Cup, can Ghana go that extra mile and set a new benchmark for Africa.
We were unfortunate enough to see Ghana in action in the weeks leading up to the finals and were hugely disappointed. To the extent where we didn’t fancy their chances in the slightest and Rajevac’s men dropped briskly off our radar. So we felt we were mislead and deceived when we later noticed how industrious and talented Ghana actually were. They certainly shown us up in that respect, but their performances throughout some testing Group D contests was enough to command the respect and admiration off anyone and it’s safe to say that Ghana are no longer the underdogs, they are rightly considered a worthy opponent for any quarter-final outfit and boast seriously strong claims for a semi-final berth, where either Argentina or Germany will await them.
The problem for Ghana, or Milovan Rajevac in particular, is they have several niggling injuries to be concerned with as well as some key suspensions. Their scoring hero’s against the United States in the previous round are both doubts for the Uruguay clash, with Kevin-Prince Boateng suffering with a hamstring problem and star forward Asamoah Gyan, who has three World Cup goals to his name, picked up a knock training, although Gyan should start nonetheless. Defender Jonathan Mensah is suspended, as well is Ayew. It leaves Rajevac in a selection pickle, with key players not available and other influential figures probably not at the desired 100% level of condition needed for a game of this magnitude.
Match Verdict: Uruguay to WIN – 2.20
Ghana will receive some fantastic backing by the South Africa locals, while they carry the hopes and expectations of Africa as a whole now that every other African team has fallen by the wayside, but it’s difficult to see them having the necessary composure and class up front to put away the chances needed to win a contest such as this, one which is likely to be scrappy and deprived of many goalscoring opportunities. Uruguay on the other hand have two of the tournament’s deadliest strikers in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. If either are giving half-a-chance, in comparison to Ghana, you would fancy them to stick them away with aplomb. That’s the difference for us – up front, as in ability and work rate there isn’t a lot to split the two.