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Strike Anywhere – Ghana v. Uruguay Preview

GHANA – URUGUAY

“Strike Anywhere”

Preview

July 2nd, 2010

Soccer City, South Africa

Seemingly one of the more underwhelming Quarterfinals, the Ghana – Uruguay game has as much potential excitement etched

Gyan will need to be on point to get Ghana through to the Semi's.

into it as any of the other ties.  Both sides overcame the odds to make it here, advanced out of very tough groups and are not to be underestimated, as so many have and paid for it.  Just like every Quarterfinal, a clear cut winner is anything but certain, and this will be a game of inches.  The winner will be the one who takes advantage of their chances in front of goal and defends as a unit.

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The only remaining African team will be hoping to have the crowd behind them as they take on 1 of 4 South American teams at Soccer City on Saturday.  It must be bittersweet for Michael Essien to have to watch this game from the sidelines, but he will be bursting with pride at his countrymen’s efforts so far.  Plus, he will probably still be a member of the 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil and he will be doing everything possible to make sure he’s fit for it.

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The Ghanaians have an injury scare with star striker Asamoah Gyan, whose stunning winner against the United States saw them to the Quarterfinals, picked up an ankle injury.  Despite this, he is still expected to play, and the Elephants will be desperate for him to be fit.  His goal against the Yanks in the first knockout round will have him brimming with confidence and he will be giving the Uruguayan back line some trying moments.  However the South Americans are prepared for that threat with Martín Cáceres (Barcelona) and Captain Diego Lugano (Fenerbahçe) anchoring the back four.

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With a powerful midfield, Ghana will be looking to flex the muscle of Kevin Prince-Boateng, Andre Ayew and Anthony Annan.  Sulley Muntari might be called into action to try and throw a wrench in the gears of the Uruguayan midfield’s attacking moves. What Ghana forces teams to do with their busy midfield of 5 players, is play the long ball over the top to try and cut out the African’s middle men.  The problem is that the Ghanaian team is tailor made for such tactics as we saw in the United States game and they are content to out muscle the opposing strikers, let their midfield claim possession and knock the ball around for a few minutes.  The problem with this game is that they are facing two red hot strikers in Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan.

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Uruguay didn’t surprise too many by advancing from their tough group, so don’t expect them to roll over and die for a very talented

Diego Forlan: Too hot for Group A. And too hot for his jersey apparently.

and young African squad.  The South Americans’ biggest asset is their strike force of Suarez and Forlan, and they will be looking to utilize that as much as possible, especially on their right side of the field where Hans Sarpei (the oldest member of an incredibly young squad) will be playing.  The 34 year old is capable but looks weary towards the end of games and will be prime for punishment when the game gets down to the grind.  If Ghana are ahead at 80 minutes, expect the South Americans to channel their attacking drive towards Sarpei, or at least until Milovan Rajevac, the Serbian manager, replaces him which he is wont to do.

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If Uruguay tries to play how Ghana want them to, then expect the African side to advance to an unprecedented first ever Semifinal appearance.  However, coach Óscar Tabárez has been around the block a few times and will be wary of how Ghana intend to play this game.  Edinson Cavani and Alvaro Pereira hold down the midfield with Diego Perez and won’t be susceptible as the Americans in midfield, especially if Tabárez opts to play the gritty Nicolás Lodeiro alongside them.  He’s small but he’s physical, which could be exactly what they need to overcome the hustle and bustle of the Ghana midfield.  If both he and Muntari play, it will be an interesting match and not a question of who will win the physical battle but who will receive a red card first?

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Ghana has allowed a goal in every one of their games except their opener, whereas Uruguay has only conceded a single goal and shut out all of Group A.

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Both sides can win this game and both know it full well.  Uruguay has more experience, but Ghana has more energy and the homefield backing.  The midfield will toil, but this game will be made in the striking department.  You only get a few clear chances a game, and the winner will be the one who can capitalize on theirs.

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Prediction

Uruguay  1 – 0  Ghana – though, extra time is not out of the question.

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Sub Prediction

Diego Forlan will at some point be shirtless.

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Set Your DVR For…Pt. 1

Group A –

– South Africa vs. Mexico –

The young Mexican will open up defenses in Group A.

Yep, the opening game.  It will be the first test for both sides hoping to make it out of one of the more exciting groups.  Recently marred by the Benni McCarthy scandal, the nation will be eager to get behind their boys and cheer the Bafana Bafana to victory. However, they are coming up against a battle ready Mexican side featuring the likes of Andrés Guardado, Giovanni Dos Santos, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco.  But, it is important to stress the effects that homefield advantage can have on a squad (cue 2002 South Korea).  Whatever happens in Group A, it should amount to some fireworks.

Prediction

South Africa 1 – 2 Mexico

– France vs. Mexico –

To say France has drastically underachieved in qualifying could be putting it lightly.  Les Bleus have one of the strongest rosters in the world, but have failed to live up to that potential.  Forever famous for his handball (the Hand of Gaul), Thierry Henry, the French’s leading scorer, will look to net early and often against a Mexican side that isn’t without its flaws.  Rafael Marquez has only just returned from injury and could be prime for a runaround, a fact that Franck Ribery knows assuredly, as well.  One of the only consistent performers for the French, and only recently, is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.  The youngster has been in superb form for Lyon and will more than likely attract the attention of big European clubs in South Africa.

Snugglin'

Prediction

France 1 – 1 Mexico

Group B

– Argentina vs. Nigeria –

Most likely the most anticipated match-up of Group B, as the attacking flair of the Africans and the unrivaled talent in the striking

department of the Argentines should provide fireworks.  The Nigerian defense isn’t half bad either.  With the likes of Joseph Yobo, Danny Shittu and Taye Taiwo, they won’t be push overs.  However, when you consider the opposition of Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Milito and Higuain up front, it’s hard to be confident.  Expect a high scoring match with little being offered by either team to defensive standoffs.

Prediction

Argentina 4 – 2 Nigeria

Group C

England vs. United States –

There is a lot of buzz surrounding this match, as the two nations have an illustrious history.  Wartime foes and allies, fierce

So much Wayne. So much angst.

rivalries in sports (Ryder Cup anyone?) and the constant claim that the Americans will never be up to snuff in the footballing world.  And with a squad like England’s, it’s hard to argue…at least this time around.  Despite losing Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry (for the opener only), England still has plenty of bite.  Their pacy wingers will be eyeing up the slower Yank defense and licking their lips.  However, the Americans prosper as underdogs and have proved it before against Spain, Italy and nearly Brazil.  They also do have a few game changing players in their ranks in the likes of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.  Michael Bradley will surprise some critics at this World Cup for his stifling defensive work but will have his hands full with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard…especially if Ricardo Clark starts and keeps being useless.

Prediction

England 2 – 2 United States

Group D

….All.  The Germans look favorites to top the group, who could blame them?  They are historically dominant and just legit all the time.  Without Ballack, there will be a big hole in midfield that some undersized plugs will try to fill, but the Germans will still manage to oust this group.  The Ghanians will obviously be missing their star man, Michael Essien, but there is still hope as Asamoah Gyan will be a viable option up top and Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah will look to anchor down the middle of the park.  The big physical play of the Serbs could see them through this group as they have sufficient talent all over the pitch, namely defense. Aleksander Kolorov, Branislav Ivanovic, Neven Subotic and Nemanja Vidic…enough said.  They won’t allow many goals and won’t be devoid of goal scoring options up top.  The Australians might be the underdogs of this group, but not by too much.  Their defensive work, like the Serbs, could make up for any menace they lack going forward.  Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill and keeper Mark Shwarzer will be up to the task to snuffing out more than enough attacks.  The question is: can they hold off enough of them to get forward themselves to score?  We don’t think so.

Prediction

Germany to take top spot, with Serbia and Ghana slugging it out for second.  Slight edge Serbia.

Group E

Cameroon vs. Denmark

Simon Kjaer will be entrusted with stifling Samuel Eto'o

The two would-be runner up contenders will contend what we believe to be an intense contest.  This is backed up by a little guycalled Christian Poulsen.  He’s explosive, he provokes players and he’s violent.  After run ins with Francesco Totti, Gennaro Gattuso and Kaká, Poulsen has made a name for himself as a bit of a dirty player.  That coupled with the intensity sure to be building up within the Cameroonian midfield could lead to a show.  Don’t put it past Poulsen to make a racial slur, provoke one of the Lions.  That said, Cameroon have an iconic hitman in Samuel Eto’o, however that may be slightly scuppered by the big Danes, Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer.  Cameroon are also dealing with internal team issues with Samuel Eto’o being called out by legend Roger Milla, essentially for being a baby.  Denmark will look to snuff out attacks with their big boys in back and counter through their young gun Nikolas Bendtner.

Prediction

Cameroon 1 – 0 Denmark



Sick Ward…

As it stands, there has already been as many as 5 world class injuries for South Africa.  What do these mean for their respective teams?  Managers and teams alike make names for themselves with how well they cope without their talismanic players.  It is time to take a walk through the sick ward.

1.  Michael Ballack – The iconic midfielder injured his ankle in the FA Cup Final against Portsmouth and saw his last World Cup dream dashed.  What do the Germans have in reserve?  Suprisingly, not as much as they typically do.  Squad depth could be a problem for them in South Africa, especially if they pick up any other serious injuries to key players.  In replacing Ballack there is Toni Kroos, the Werder Bremen attacking midfielder, or maybe the largely untested Stuttgart central midfielder Sami Kheidra.  Either way, it will be interesting to see what the Germans will come up with.  Will this stop them from advancing into the later stages?  Not a chance, they still ooze talent and are always a threat.

South Africa will be without one of the continent's greatest talents in decades

2. Michael Essien – Unlike Ballack, Michael Essien is much more grave injury to his national team.  The Black Stars revolve around the former African Player of the Year, and will struggle to find somebody to fill his overly sized boots.  Sulley Muntari may be brought in from the left to try and steady the ship in the middle of the park to partner Stephen Appiah.  Another option could be young Anthony Annan of FC Copenhagen who could be a legitimate player on the big stage, but only time will tell.  Unlike Ballack again, however, Essien most likely has another World Cup in him.

3. Rio Ferdinand – Woe is England.  Just when everybody thought they were taking a flawless squad to South Africa, Ferdinand

The longtime trusted stopper will have to watch from home.

loses his last chance a World Cup.  Tragic for such a decorated player and seasoned veteran.  Now the question becomes, who will partner John Terry?  Long absent Jamie Carragher?  Injury stricken Ledley King?  Or the recently called up Michael Dawson?  All are capable players but all will be hard pressed to emulate the form of Rio Ferdinand.  Carragher is probably the most experienced, but may be a step behind quicker players in South Africa.  Regardless, England still has plenty of quality all over the pitch and should be able to see their way easily out of their group and past the first round or two of the knockout stages.

4. Didier Drogba – What a shame for the Ivory Coast.  The Elephants are bringing one of the strongest African squads ever to a World Cup and are now without their savior.  Drogba is, without a doubt, one of the top striking talents in the world.  He is big, physical, and deadly.  Still, the Ivory Coast will be able to find some quality backup.  Left in the striking department is Salomon Kalou, Aruna Dindane, and Gervinho.  To say the least, they won’t be toothless, however they’ll be missing their fangs without “Drog”.  Advancing out of the group a possibility?  You bet.  Is it going to be easy?  Not a chance.



No Ballack. No Essien. Group D is an Open Book

Group D –

Germany

Ghana

Serbia

Australia

Group D will be one of the most entertaining groups, as each team is fully capable of advancing out of the group to the knockout round.  Powerhouse Germany will be favored to take the top spot, however a devastating injury to their talisman, Michael Ballack, could shake things up.  There are some fantastic players scattered throughout the group, several world class at that, and it will be a treat to see it unfold.

Australia – The Socceroo’s are bringing in one of their most talented squads in some time.  After narrowly missing out on a

The Everton midfielder will go for the knockout blow in South Africa.

chance to advance to the Quarterfinals in Germany, the Aussies will be hell bent on avenging their unjust ousting four years ago to a certain diving Italian.  Lead by the industrious midfield maestro Tim Cahill and anchored down by a defensive trio of Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and keeper Mark Shwarzer, Australia has every chance of advancing.  If they play a resolute defensive game, look to abuse their physicality  and ability to score off of set pieces, we could see a very open group.  Harry Kewell is a very talented who has been bogged down by injuries, but is now fully fit and itching to rebound on the international stage.  Be wary, though, Kewell hasn’t performed well on the big stage for a good deal of time.

Serbia – The Serbs are a loaded gun.  They have talent in about every area of the pitch, but not just in the players you hear about every day.  Yes, they have one of the best defenders in the world in Nemanja Vidic, also Branislav Ivanovic and seasoned veteran Dejan Stankovic to lead the team forward.  However, sleepers like Milan Jovanovic, Neven Subotic, and Milos Krasic could well be the standout performers for the Serbians.  Their biggest problem is their striking department.  The giant Nicola Zigic (6’8”) will no doubt be the target on their set pieces, which they perform quite well.  Whether Zigic performs or not, Serbia has dynamic wingers in Zoran Tosic, Krasic and Jovanovich that will wreak havoc on defenses in Group D.  They’ll also be desperate to make up for past performances on the international level.  But their attacking play could be a refreshing sight in South Africa.

Ghana – As I write, Michael Essien has just been ruled out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with injury.  A horribly devastating blow to a side who were hoping to build on their 2006 World Cup success.  That said, the Black Stars still pack a punch with a strong midfield (with or without Essien), a moderately firm back line, and good options going forward.  Sulley Muntari is now the biggest name on the team sheet, as the Internazionale midfielder will look to bring the team together in the absence of their fallen star.  Asamoah Gyan, the Rennes hitman, will be looked to for goals as will Muntari, who netted two goals in their qualifying run.  Adding more experience to their back line is John Paintsil, who is coming off a highly successful Europa League run with Fulham and will be on a high.  Verdict for the Black Stars?  Down, but definitely not out.

Germany – Die Mannschaft (“The Team”) will be looking to fill the hole left by Michael Ballack, much like Ghana but with

Shweinsteiger will look to emulate his form from 2006.

better options.  Whatever tournament they enter, Germany will always be a contender.  Their squad depth, abundance of skill and experience will make them a card carrying member in South Africa this summer.  Despite some flimsy draws against Finland and a few wins grinded out at home, the Germans were still undefeated in their qualifying campaign.  Miroslav check in with seven goals, the most on the team (Podolski – 6, Ballack – 4, Shweinsteiger – 3).  Germany will pound lesser opponents and their stingy defense will provide any attacking threat with something to think about, but up against formidable opposition could send Germany reeling.  Their physicality at the back and technical ability up front is the blueprint for a perfect team.  Players like Bastien Shweinsteiger will provide Die Mannschaft with the creativity and killer pass/cross in South Africa and is the type of player who will thrive there and become a standout performer.  Another player that should be on your radar is Mesut Ozil, a dynamic attacking midfield of Turkish descent who plies his trade at Werder Bremen.  Ozil is the cutting edge players who knows how to split open defenses with his clever passes and foot skills.  Expect the Germans to topple lesser sides, but they could look suspect in the latter stages of the tournament as their bench is quite barren.

Prediction –

1.  Germany

2. Australia

3. Ghana

4. Serbia