Portugal and Ghana just about did enough to stay alive in their second matches after opening defeats. For both there is now no option but to win when they meet in the final round of games in Group G if they are to secure a berth in the Round of 16 and avoid an early flight home.
Right now the chances of Ghana doing so look significantly better. A narrow 2-1 loss to the United States followed by a 2-2 draw with Germany, means that the African side go into their final match three points and two goals in the goal difference column behind the second-placed Americans. Ghana needs either a superior goal difference or a higher number of goals scored, given that they lost the tiebreaker to the U.S.
Ghana should certainly come into the match with Portugal feeling confident of at least fulfilling their side of the bargain. After the disappointment of being beaten by a late winner to begin the World Cup, Ghana responded superbly against a Germany side who appear the strongest in a hugely competitive group.
It was a match that suited Ghana’s preference to play on the counter-attack, and they displayed their strength to blistering degree, especially in a second-half that ranks among the best 45 minutes of the competition to date. The pace and movement of Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu caused Germany significant problems and Ghana even led when Gyan pounced just past the hour mark.
The team coached by James Kwesi Appiah now has its sights set on continuing the country’s impressive record of making it out of the group phase in each of the previous two occasions in which they have qualified -- 2006 and 2010. Any extra motivation will surely come from the agonizing manner in which they exited at the quarterfinals in South Africa when Gyan missed a penalty in the last minute of extra time before Ghana went onto bow out to Uruguay in a penalty shootout. The quest to become the first African country to make it to the last four of the World Cup still lingers unfulfilled.
Portugal’s prospects for progress don’t look nearly so positive. With a goal difference three worse off than Ghana , it will take a big win to stand a chance of overhauling either the U.S. or Germany. That simply is hard to envisage.
Portugal were shambolic in almost every way in an opening 4-0 reversal to Germany. In truth, they weren’t any better against the U.S. Indeed, it was one of the worst team performances of the World Cup, which made it hard to fathom that Silvestre Varela’s last-gasp goal secured them a 2-2 draw.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliant cross set up that equalizer, but his performance was symptomatic of the ills of the team. The world’s best player over the past 18 months appears a long way from full fitness due to his troublesome knee injury and against the U.S. he was indulged to an extraordinary degree in the hope that he could produce some game-winning brilliance.
Starting on the left, Ronaldo took almost no part whatsoever in the play when his team lost the ball, leaving that side of the Portugal team hugely vulnerable. Coach Paulo Bento eventually switched around the shape and put Ronaldo up front to limit the impact of his star’s lack of work rate. Unfortunately for Portugal, there were far too many other players who had no excuses for their lack of intensity in getting back into position when losing the ball. Portugal are far from a one-man team but so far in Brazil they have been a team staggeringly less than the sum of its parts.
Pepe will return from his suspension picked up for his head-butt against Germany and he will have to be a part of a drastically improved Portugal performance if they are to get the win required. If Portugal play as they did against the U.S., Ghana’s pace and quality on the break could inflict stern punishment. Ghana are particularly strong down the right side, where Gyan often drifts and where Atsu has impressed, and it is there where Portugal are most vulnerable, with Fabio Coentrao again injured and Ronaldo doing even less defensive work than usual. Ghana look capable of getting the type of win required to ensure they take advantage if the U.S. fails to gain the point they need against Germany.
Ghana 3-1 Portugal
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
Portugal win: 6/5
Ghana win: 19/10
Where to watch: The 2014 World Cup Group G match will kick off from the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2.