Over a decade on from that fateful evening in Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium, Ghana are out for revenge. That’s because they will meet Uruguay for the first time since the hand of Luis Suarez sent the West Africans crashing out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
They’ve been drawn against the South Americans in Group H, as well as South Korea and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, who may be making his final appearance at football’s biggest party.
Online bookmakers such as Coral, who provide betting and free offers on the World Cup, have made Brazil and France the early favourites to lift the trophy in Qatar. But will the Black Stars impress in their return to the global stage after eight years away?
How can anyone forget Ghana’s last meeting with the Uruguayans? The two-time world champions were spearheaded by Diego Forlan, who had the infamous Jabulani ball under his spell. He had already scored his side's equaliser from 30 yards, cancelling out Sulley Muntari’s sensational opener.
Then, deep into extra time with the Africans well on top, it happened. A 120th-minute free-kick caused chaos in Le Celeste’s penalty area. Dominic Adiyiah nodded goalwards, beating the goalkeeper but not Suarez, who deliberately batted the ball away. He received a straight red card only for Asamoah Gyan, his nation's record goalscorer, to sky the resulting penalty.
It was the last kick of the game, with the referee blowing the final whistle before the ball had even come back down to earth. Suarez ran off celebrating down the tunnel like a criminal who had just gotten away with murder, and his teammates kept their nerve in the shootout, stopping Ghana from becoming the first African semifinalist in the history of the World Cup.
The world looked on with disbelief. Even the neutrals knew that the defeated side had been cheated out of a final four berth, on their home continent nonetheless. But twelve years on, the Black Stars finally get their chance to seek redemption.
Admittedly, Ghana are not the side they were back in 2010. Gone are Gyan, Muntari, John Mensah and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Their hopes this time around are pinned on the shoulders of Thomas Partey, Crystal Palace striker Jordan Ayew and his brother, Andre. The brothers - sons of Abedi Pele, perhaps Africa’s greatest ever player - are the shining lights in an otherwise ordinary-looking squad, and they will need to be at their best to gain their retribution.
A team void of form
Despite qualifying for the upcoming World Cup, the Black Stars are on a horrendous run of form. One win out of six during the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup consigned them to third place and broke their run of featuring at three consecutive World Cups. They followed that up with their worst finish at the African Cup of Nations for over 10 years in 2019, when they exited in the second round. Earlier this year, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of lowly Comoros - a team ranked 126th in the world - ensured that the Ghanaians would finish bottom of their group at this year's AFCON. It’s a run of form that cost former manager Milovan Rajevac his job and has even led to Andrew Ayew having to appear before Parliament’s Select Committee on Youth and Sports to answer questions over the country's poor performances.
Since their dreadful showing in Cameroon, the West Africans did manage to negate a tricky playoff against Nigeria, winning on away goals to secure their tickets to Doha. But since then, they laboured to a draw against the Centra African Republic and were thumped 4-1 by Japan. It’s hardly inspiring form and the incoming manager - former Bundesliga star Otto Addo - will have a job on his hands rejuvenating a team void of any kind of confidence.
What can we expect from Ghana in Qatar?
Had this been the Ghana team of years gone by, we would say that they have a great chance of progressing from Group H. Uruguay’s key players from previous years, namely Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and giant defender Diego Godin are all aged 35 or over. Providing that they keep Son Heung-Min quiet - something that English Premier League defenders couldn't do last season - then South Korea appear to be beatable. Portugal’s stars could be too much to handle but that doesn’t mean that Addo’s men couldn’t aim for the runners-up spot. But it would require a remarkable transformation in the coming months for that to become a realistic proposition.
A crumb of comfort for supporters can come from a look back into the past. Back in 2004, the Black Stars didn’t even qualify for the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia. Two years later they once again exited at the group stage courtesy of a 2-1 defeat to Zimbabwe. But in Germany six months later, they came out fighting at their first-ever FIFA World Cup. They secured a 2-1 victory over a Czech Republic side containing the likes of Pavel Nedved, Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky who had reached the semifinals of Euro 2004 just two years prior. They would follow that up with victory over the United States, securing their passage to the last 16. Reigning champions Brazil would prove one hurdle too many, but it was an incredible journey.
And it was a journey that proved anything is possible for Ghana. It’s a nation of resolute people, and their 26-man squad will be determined to turn things around in the Gulf State. The form and fitness of Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, will be crucial to their success. He fell out of favour at the Emirates last term but, as we saw under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, he’s a player that is destined to impress. If he can return to his best, he may be able to lead his nation to second place in their group. If they manage that another last 16 tussle with Brazil would await, setting Ghana up nicely to avenge two sets of South Americans that have defeated them in years gone by.
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