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Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 1°C
# Group by Group Guide
Group H: The Ronaldo Show begins as Hughton's Ghana seek revenge on Luis Suarez and Uruguay
In the last of our series, we focus on Group H, where Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana, and South Korea face-off.

PORTUGAL 

 How did they get here?  

Having finished second in Ireland’s group behind Serbia, Portugal went to the play-offs expecting to meet Italy in the final. They upheld their end of the bargain by beating Turkey in the semi-finals, but sealed their spot in Qatar by beating North Macedonia in the final, after they shocked the Italians. 

Who is their manager?  

Fernando Santos is the man who led Portugal to Euro 2016 and, despite a diminishing standing among the Portuguese public, remains in charge. 

How do they play? 

Santos is a safety-first manager, in spite of the attacking riches at his disposal. He favours a 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot, with Ronaldo leading the line and Bruno Fernandes tucked in behind. And for the wide roles, pick any two from Bernardo Silva, Rafael Leao, Goncalo Guedes, and Joao Felix.

cristiano-ronaldo-portugal Alamy Stock Photo Cristiano Ronaldo. Alamy Stock Photo

Who is their key player? 

Cristiano Ronaldo remains their totemic player, and will play as a central striker, though he is occasionally partnered by Andre Silva when Santos goes all-out in a 4-4-2 (as we saw in the second half against Ireland in Faro last year.) Ronaldo will command attention and, above all, the ball, so it’s difficult to see any Portugal attack not going through him. But there is a very real debate as to whether Portugal would be better without him in attack, the kind of argument Erik ten Hag settled at Manchester United months ago. 

Who might be their breakout player of this World Cup? 

Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos has been outstanding at club level and earned a call-up to his squad, though his route to action is blocked by Ronaldo. The other player to blossom since qualifying has been Rafael Leao of AC Milan, who was the subject of interest from Chelsea in the summer and might add another chunk to his price tag in Qatar. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

Liverpool’s Diogo Jota is out, having suffered a serious calf injury in the league win over Manchester City last month. In spite of their depth of talent, his absence is a blow: he’s a regular under Santos. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

Ronaldo will need to roll back the years if Portugal are to contend, and nothing he has produced this season suggests he is ready to do that. They should have enough to navigate the group, but if they do so, they’ll run into either Brazil or a still-tricky last-16 opponent. The quarter-finals may be the best they have. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘Portugal have incredible talent but the issue is that they are a better side without Ronaldo – and they won’t drop him.’ 

 

GHANA 

How did they get here?  

Ghana eked through the group phase in controversial fashion, pipping South Africa to top spot in their group on goals scored. The crucial result was a 1-0 home win against their closest rivals, secured thanks to a very soft penalty. South Africa complained about the referee to Fifa, who weren’t moved to act. Ghana thus progressed to a play-off with Nigeria, whom they edged on away goals in the play-offs.  

Who is their manager? 

German-born Otto Addo was capped 15 times by Ghana as a player – some of which came at the 2006 World Cup – and then moved into coaching in Germany, combining duties as an assistant at Borussia Dortmund with a job as assistant manager with Ghana. He took interim charge of the play-off with Nigeria after the sacking of Milovan Rajevac following an awful AFCON and took the job full-time after that improbable play-off success. He has not left his role with Dortmund, however, which has caused much ire in the Ghanaian press. 

nottingham-uk-sept-15th-nottingham-forest-manager-chris-hughton-during-the-sky-bet-championship-match-between-nottingham-forest-and-middlesbrough-at-the-city-ground-nottingham-on-wednesday-15th-se Alamy Stock Photo Chris Hughton. Alamy Stock Photo

More recognisable to Irish fans is Technical Advisor Chris Hughton, who has been brought in to be the Bobby Robson to Addo’s Steve Staunton. Hughton’s father is from Ghana, but he ended up in the role via a curious route: he was spotted in Ghana on holidays, which sent the local press into overdrive. That ultimately led to discussions with the FA, and Hughton came on board, offering advice and assistance while lightening Addo’s load by taking on some of the administrative parts of the role. The circumstances in which he took the role are remarkable but, to some in Ghana, indicative of a chaotic organisation. 

How do they play? 

Ghana have swapped between a 4-1-4-1 and a 5-3-2 under Addo, and have recruited players to bolster their squad, bringing Brighton defender Tariq Lamptey and Athletic Bilbao striker Inaki Williams on board ahead of this World Cup. Williams may lead the line, but Ajax’ repurposing of midfielder Mohammed Kudus as a false nine gives them another option entirely. Other familiar faces in the attack are the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, the latter a regular at Crystal Palace with a miserable goal record. The defensive pairing is likely to be the unconvincing Premier League duo of Daniel Amartey and Mohammed Salisu.

Who is their key player? 

Thomas Partey has established himself as being key to Arsenal’s superb start to the season – their only Premier League defeat of the season came in his absence. He is just as important in the his national side’s midfield, and will be given the task of stopping opposition attacks while also starting Ghana’s. 

Who might be their breakout star of this World Cup? 

Mohammed Kudus, 22, has been listed as a midfielder in the Ghana squad but has been played as a central striker at Ajax this season, where he has been excellent, scoring against all of their Champions League opponents, including a stunning finish in front of the Kop at Anfield. It remains to be seen if Ghana will move their team around to similarly accommodate him, but if they do, he might just leave Qatar with some more…kudos.  

Have they any injury concerns? 

Yes, and unhelpfully they’ve come at goalkeeper. First-choice Joseph Luke Wollacott, of Charlton, has been ruled out with a late injury, with back-up Richard Ofori also out. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

The Ghanaian FA perhaps gave an insight into their expectation levels last month, when they announced two national days of “prayer and fasting” for the benefit of the football team. (Friday was set aside for those who practice Islam, and Sunday for those who practice Christianity.) Ghana are the lowest-ranked side in the tournament and with a fairly chaotic preparation and a weak defence further depleted by injury, they will struggle to qualify and they will likely finish bottom of the group. What might help them is the draw: Portugal are strong on paper but less fearsome in reality, while they have an old score to settle with Uruguay. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘Chris Hughton involved and a chance to mete out some delayed, cosmic justice to Luis Suarez – what’s not to like about these guys?’

URUGUAY 

How did they get here? 

Uruguay finished third in South American qualifying, though a distant 11 points from second-placed Argentina. Their goal difference of nil betrays an occasionally tricky campaign that opened with just two wins in their first seven games, a run which cost the long-serving Oscar Washington Tabarez his job as manager. 

Who is their manager? 

Former Inter Miami manager Diego Alonso was announced as Tabarez’ successor last year and rescued qualification, winning his first four games in charge to seal Uruguay’s place in Qatar. He had the benefit of a pretty straightforward run of opponents – Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru and Chile – and a friendly defeat to Iran in September has raised a few question marks. 

How do they play? 

It’s not immediately clear as Alonso has flipped between a back three and a back four, the latter varying from 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1 to 4-3-3. Regardless of how they set-up the spine will be strong and experienced: the centre-backs will likely be José Giménez of Atletico and Ronald Araújo of Barcelona, with midfielders Federico Valverde (Real Madrid) and Rodrigo Bentancur (Spurs) behind a frontline that will likely feature Darwin Nunez and Luis Suarez. Edinson Cavani is also in the squad, as is Diego Godin, at the ripe old age of 36. 

bratislava-slovakia-september-27-federico-valverde-of-uruguay-during-the-international-friendly-match-between-uruguay-and-canada-at-tehelne-pole Alamy Stock Photo Fede Valverde. Alamy Stock Photo

Who is their key player? 

Fede Valverde is having a sensational season with Real Madrid, emerging as a key player and finding a rich vein of goalscoring form. He usually plays off the right for Madrid but he will likely be the heartbeat of the Uruguay midfield in Qatar. 

Who might be their breakout star of this World Cup? 

We haven’t seen much of 20-year-old forward Facundo Pellistri at Manchester United yet, but he has been named in the Uruguay squad and may be sprung as a surprise at some point to freshen up the Uruguay forward line: he has generally played off the right of the attack at international level, and Alonso has liked him when he has played 4-3-3. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo hasn’t played a game since being injured in that defeat to Iran in September, though he has been named in Alonso’s squad. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

Alonso says Uruguay are aiming to win the tournament, but that looks a step too far. Much relies on whether Alonso can strike the right chemistry: Godin, Suarez, and Cavani raise the average of the squad, but there is plenty of youth and pace across the squad, too. The group draw has been relatively kind, but they don’t look capable of going as far as the semi-finals. 

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What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘Uruguay have made their name by over-performing at World Cups, but it’s difficult to know exactly what their level is ahead of this tournament.’ 

 

SOUTH KOREA 

How did they get here? 

South Korea dropped just two points in the first phase of qualifying from the Asian confederation, and qualified for the World Cup automatically with a second-placed finish behind Iran in the second phase. 

Who is their manager? 

Portugal’s Paulo Bento will meet a few ghosts in this group. He coached Portugal at the 2014 World Cup but was fired after a group stage exit – losing to Ghana – was followed by defeat in the opening Euro 2016 qualifier to Albania. He was replaced by Fernando Santos, who not only qualified Portugal for those Euros, but led them to the trophy. Bento, meanwhile, rebuilt his career in Brazil and then with Olympiakos, who harshly sacked him when they were seven points clear at the top of the league. A brief stint in China preceded his getting the South Korea job after the 2018 World Cup. 

How do they play? 

Bento has experimented with a back three in a couple of friendly games building up to the World Cup, but the general set-up is a 4-1-4-1 in which Son Heung-Min plays off the left. The defence will be marshalled by Kim Min-jae – a revelation at Napoli thus far this season – and it’s a backline that had the best defensive record in qualifying. 

6-june-2022-daejeon-south-korea-south-korean-player-son-heung-min-during-the-friendly-match-between-south-korea-and-chile-at-daejeon-world-cup-stadium-in-daejeon-south-korea-on-june-6-2022-so Alamy Stock Photo Son Heung-Min. Alamy Stock Photo

Who is their key player? 

It is, undoubtedly, Son Heung-Min. He was South Korea’s top goalscorer in qualifying with seven goals, and was the Premier League’s joint-top scorer last season. His form has been indifferent in the opening few months of this season, however, and that has been compounded by the facial injury he suffered in the Champions League against Marseille. He is in the squad and everyone has declared him fit: he must be at his best if South Korea are to progress. 

Who is their potential breakout star of this World Cup? 

Son plays off the left rather than centrally, as Jeong Woo-yeong plays through the middle, either as the out-and-out striker or in a slightly more withdrawn attacking role. The 23-year-old plays his football with Bundesliga high-flyers Freiburg, having first moved from South Korea to Bayern Munich. He has played right across the front line with his club and his movement is very intelligent, adept at arriving late into the penalty area to score. That he will move about will also create space for Son, cutting in from the left wing. 

Have they any injury worries? 

They have a Senegalesque concern over their superstar player: but the prospect of Son’s participation seems a lot more firm than Sadio Mane’s. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

South Korea have been out of a group once since that astonishing run to the semi-finals in 2002, but they have drawn the more vulnerable of the heavyweights this time, so squeaking through is by no means impossible. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘If Son is fully fit, South Korea can profit from an easier-than-meets-the-eye draw to qualify.’ 

 

Group H Fixtures

Thursday 24 November 

  • Uruguay vs South Korea; Education City Stadium; kick-off 1pm
  • Portugal vs Ghana; Stadium 974; kick-off 4pm

Monday 28 November

  • South Korea vs Ghana; Education City Stadium; kick-off 1pm
  • Portugal vs Uruguay; Lusail Iconic Stadium; kick-off 7pm

Friday 2 December 

  • Ghana vs Uruguay; Al Janoub Stadium; kick-off 3pm
  • South Korea vs Portugal; Education City Stadium; kick-off 3pm

Read all of our group previews here 

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