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The Cup Running Over


July 1, 2010 11:40 AM

Uruguay-Ghana Quarterfinal Preview: On Paper It's Uruguay But the Intangibles Favor Ghana

In a Nutshell: Pundits are calling this the surprise matchup of the quarterfinals but it isn't really. Because of the vagaries of the draw, this section of the quarterfinals was always going to produce a semifinalist which wasn't one of the traditional powers in the sport (at least once France went out). Ghana is here because it is the strongest team in Africa and has managed to compensate well for the loss of superstar Michael Essien. Uruguay is here because it got by Mexico in Group A and had a fairly easy match in the round of 16.

Recent History: They've never played when it counted because both haven't been to recent World Cups often.

What We Learned Last Game: Both won close matches against middling teams. We did discover that Uruguay has the ability to score late and that Ghana can score from open play and more than once in a game -- at least if it goes to extra time. We also learned that at this point in the tournament, these teams aren't going to blow out anyone -- especially the way they play.


GHANA

The Good News: The youngest squad in the tournament has proven to be an extremely difficult team to break down, as it has conceded only three goals in four games. It also keeps possession well and is tactically savvy, with a powerful midfield among the best in the tournament. The crowd -- both in the stands and around the continent -- will be wildly enthusiastic though it won't include about a thousand Ghanaians who were flown in to cheer for their team in the first part of the tournament but had to go home so the trip could stay within budget.

The Bad News:
Not an offensive powerhouse, to put it mildly. The two goals against the US were the first the team had scored from open play in the tournament. And Uruguay is a much better defensive team than the leaky US. Ghana also has squad problems: Defender Jonathan Mensah and midfield Andre Ayew are suspended due to cards and striker Asamoah Gyan and midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng are hobbling; they need them both, especially Gyan, who has scored seven of the last 11 goals the team has tallied as its lone striker. Sulley Muntari, however, should be more than an adequate replacement for Ayew.

Pedigree:
Ghana has never gone this far at the World Cup. (2006 was its first Cup appearance and it went out in the round of 16 to Brazil). This is also as far as any African team has ever gone.

Player to Watch:
Richard Kingson -- the keeper (released by Wigan in May, by the way, and out of a club job). He had a good game against the US and the team won. But his spill against Australia cost his team the three points and he can't make a similar mistake here. The Wall Street Journal has him as the keeper of the tourney so far but he's untested at this level.

Telling Stat:
Ghana has been awarded four penalties in its eight World Cup games.

To Win:
Gyan has gotten the goals but emerging midfielder Anthony Annan has been the sparkplug. He needs to be in top form for Ghana to progress. Though Ghana is a young team, it doesn't play that way -- avoiding the ups and downs of other inexperienced squads. That needs to continue, as does the team's tight defense. If Ghana plays to its capabilities, Uruguay could have trouble scoring.


u1_sulley_muntari_ghana.jpg

Sulley Muntari should see his first start in the Cup for Ghana and will be a key player.




URUGUAY


The Good News: The Mexican game (1-0) was the template. Let the other team control possession but strike quickly on the counter, counting on strikers extraordinaire Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez to get you goals, operating out of a 4-3-1-2 with Forlan slightly behind Suarez. The defense has been strong -- allowing only one goal and that from a free kick. Also, it was a Uruguayan ref who made the mistake that disallowed the English goal against Germany. That means everyone in England will probably be rooting for Ghana which, given how things go for the English, is a real plus for Uruguay.

The Bad News:
Uruguay's Achilles heel has always been that it is inconsistent. It seemed to overcome that tendency in the group but against South Korea, it allowed its opponent back into a game that it was seemingly controlling, only to pull it out in the last ten minutes. It also concedes too many free kicks.

Pedigree:
The first power in the sport -- winning the Cup at home in 1930 and in Brazil in 1950. It finished fourth in 1970 but ever since, it hasn't been a factor.

Player to Watch:
OK there's two: Forlan and Suarez up front give Uruguay something that Ghana doesn't have -- two players capable of enough individual brilliance to pull out a game on their own.  

Telling Stat:
Uruguay hasn't controlled possession in any of its four matches so far, content to strike on the counter.

To Win:
Strike accurately on the counter. Let Ghana control possession but don't allow Annan to create chances close to goal. No dumb tackling errors either -- typical of past Uruguayan teams though not this one. So far.


Prediction: A battle of two very well-organized teams which maximize their strengths. On paper, Uruguay probably has a slight advantage but the intangibles -- to the extent one can call home continent advantage an intangible -- favor Ghana.

If It Goes to Penalties: A tossup. Neither keeper has a world-class reputation and both teams feature a fair number of sharpshooters.
 

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