Although Uruguay have a rich FIFA World Cup™ history, they have not advanced as far as the quarter-finals since their run to the last four in 1970. Ghana, their opponents on Friday night, have never gone this far in the tournament before, having reached the second round four years ago on their FIFA World Cup debut.
In both 2006 and in South Africa, the Black Stars were Africa’s only representatives in the knock-out rounds, and they can also become the first ever side from the continent to advance to a semi-final with a win. Standing in the way of Africa’s hopes is an in-form La Celeste led by one of the most dynamic front-lines at the tournament.
Uruguay-Ghana, Johannesburg (Soccer City), 2 July, 20.30
For a team that struggled to qualify for the finals, Uruguay emerged as one of the dark horses of the opening stage after finishing top of Group A. After opening the event with a scoreless draw with France, they have secured three consecutive wins, largely thanks to the form of strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. Forlan scored a brace in the 3-0 dismantling of the hosts, while Suarez scored the trio of Uruguay’s goals in the 1-0 win over Mexico and 2-1 victory over Korea Republic. Edinson Cavani is the most unheralded of the attacking triumvirate, but the Palermo forward can also be lethal if unchecked. However, Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac has earned a reputation for his tactical acumen, and the Serb has built one of Africa’s finest defences.
With so much history on the line, Ghana could be forgiven for being overawed with the occasion, but the Black Stars are seemingly unflappable despite being the youngest team in the tournament. A side boasting several players who won the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year, they finished runners-up at January’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations on the back of three consecutive 1-0 wins. They also held their nerve in a dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory over South Africa 2010’s comeback kings, USA, in the second round. Asamoah Gyan has scored three of the side’s four goals, and despite being hampered by an ankle injury, should be the fulcrum of the Ghana attack. Kevin-Prince Boateng also appears likely to win his fitness race, though the loss of starlet Andre Ayew to suspension will be painful. The door might now be open for the comeback of little-used Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari, and the possible return of previously injured centre-half Isaac Vorsah could also be a major boost.
Players to watch
Luis Suarez v John Mensah
A veteran anchor at the back for Ghana, John Mensah will need to call on all of his experience to stop the speed and creativity of the Uruguay attack. The 23-year-old Ajax striker Suarez is technically adept and capable of scoring from anywhere around the box. Although the powerful Mensah should have the advantage in the air, he could well be challenged for pace on the counter-attack, though the potential return of Vorsah could provide him with significant assistance.