Ghana v Uruguay, a game worth more than three points

Ghana fans watch penalty shootout versus Uruguay, 2010.

Close to 11pm and it’s a 1-1 deadlock in Johannesburg, Ghana have a free kick in Uruguay’s final third. After a ping pong in the box, Dominic Adiyiah has headed the ball goalbound, he’s about to send Ghana to the 2010 World Cup Semi-Finals, becoming the first African nation to do so, in a tournament hosted on the African continent for the first time…

Luis Suarez had other plans.

In perhaps one of the most infamous moments in World Cup history, the Uruguayan handled the ball to prevent Adiyiah’s certain goal, resulting in a penalty and a sending-off. 

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From there we all know what happened. As a Ghanaian rehashing and typing out these moments, they still bring out those flashes of hope in me, ultimately dashed by sorrow. Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s talisman throughout the tournament, blazed his penalty against the bar, condemning the game to a penalty shootout which the Uruguayans won. The hearts of not just a nation, but a whole continent sank.

Twelve years on, the two nations meet again on the world stage, this time in the group stages. Otto Addo’s Black Stars have an opportunity for payback and repair wounds that still bleed to this day.

The past year let alone the last twelve years have been turbulent for Ghanaian national football. Milovan Rajevac, the coach who led the Black Stars at the 2010 World Cup, was back in the hot seat, this time leading the nation in Cameroon at the African Cup of Nations in January 2022.

The tournament was an embarrassment, bottom of the group without a win, compounded by a 3-2 loss to minnows Comoros. A humiliating watershed similar to that England v Iceland game in 2016, Rajevac was sacked, and the inquest began, but it had to be quick as there was a World Cup Playoff versus Nigeria on the horizon.

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The Ghanaian FA hired a technical management team consisting of veteran Premier League and Championship manager Chris Hughton, Borussia Dortmund assistant Otto Addo and then former Aston Villa youth coach George Boateng. They brought the squad together quickly and well enough to edge out Nigeria over a cagey two legs, a first World Cup appearance since 2014 beckoned.

In the proceeding months, Ghanaian footballers in the diaspora began making themselves available for selection. Most notably, Bristol City’s phenom Antoine Semenyo, Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams, Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey and Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu, all declared their allegiance, bolstering the squad to its best talent level since 2014.

In addition to these new players, enigmatic youngsters Mohammed Kudus and Kamaldeen Sulemana mean this Ghana team are not one to be underestimated. Both have begun to make their name on the European stage over the past two years, with Kudus scoring a brilliant goal versus Liverpool.

Setting up in a 4-2-3-1, this Ghana side are gritty underdogs. Their spine of Salisu, Alexander Dijku, Thomas Partey, Daniel-Kofi Kyereh and Kudus gives them the opportunity to get a result from any game. Expect this side to defend deep and compact, seeking quick transitions to their forwards, also relying quite heavily on set-piece chance creation.

Their playoff against Nigeria proved this side can withstand a barrage of attacks, while the midfield pivot of Kyereh and Partey offer high-level ball retention and an outlet to counter quickly. This will be necessary against a heavily favoured Uruguay side.

Iñaki Williams is Ghana’s new leading man, after years residing in international football limbo, earlier this year Williams took steps in reconnecting with his parents’ homeland. If he can transfer his holdup play and goalscoring exploits he’s known for in Bilbao, this Ghana side could be a surprise package in one of the toughest groups of this 2022 edition, consisting of South Korea, Portugal and of course, Uruguay.

Ghana possesses a plethora of tricky wingers who all offer different qualities, a nightmare for fullbacks, especially in the five-subs era. This tournament may be too early to see what this Ghana squad can truly achieve, due to a lack of time together as Otto Addo seeks to implement his vision. When this squad gels together they will become a formidable thorn in opposition sides for tournaments to come.

A comfortable 2-0 ‘friendly’ win versus the top 15 ranked side Switzerland, highlighted the team’s potential. With Kudus, Partey and Dijku not even starting this game, there is still greater performance to be extracted in the coming weeks. That said, with their tough group, the Black Stars performance in Qatar could vary from ending in the group stages to a possible Quarter-Finals appearance.

Uruguay enters this game as favourites. 2010 talisman Diego Forlan may be long retired, but the young spine of that side has since conquered Europe and is still going. Suarez, Fernando Muslera and Edinson Cavani are in the squad, but now surrounded by a new generation of top-class footballers in Federico Valverde, Darwin Nunez and Rodrigo Bentancur to name a few. It should not be a shock if this Uruguay side reaches the depths of this tournament, possibly even the Final itself.

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This game is set to be a battle, more than three points, this is twelve years of hurt, and whether or not this current Ghana team can beat Uruguay, it’ll surely evoke memories and emotions that many felt on that July evening in 2010.

And perhaps we Ghanaians and Asamoah Gyan in particular can finally get our own back.

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