After five-goal thrillers in their opening two World Cup matches, Ghana may be hoping to reach the last 16 with a little less drama when they meet Uruguay on Friday, but their opponents must win to avoid a humiliating early exit.
A draw for the tournament’s lowest-ranked side could be enough for Ghana to join Portugal in the knockout phase, while a point could make for yet another nail-biter for the West Africans in Friday’s simultaneous two-match finale, where all four Group H teams have a shot at qualifying.
Perennial wild cards Uruguay must win in Al Wakrah to go through and will need to fire up their big-name forwards and shake off some dire form that saw them held by South Korea and outclassed by Portugal.
Veteran strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani and talented newcomer Darwin Nunez all struggled in their opening matches and coach Diego Alonso must choose whether to keep faith with them or opt for starts for Facundo Pellistri and Maxi Gomez, who have provided Uruguay’s few moments of excitement.
If Ghana play for the draw they will be gambling on already-qualified Portugal beating South Korea, a team famous for their fighting spirit, as proven when they came back from two goals down against Ghana on Monday, before losing 3-2.
For the Black Stars, a win could avenge an acrimonious quarter-final defeat by Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup, when Suarez used his hand to block an extra-time winner for Ghana, who missed the resulting spot-kick and lost in the penalty shootout that followed.
Coach Otto Addo said that will not be on his mind and knows his side will need to be at their best to stop Uruguay, who are playing in their 14th World Cup and have reached the last 16 in their last three appearances.
“They have very good strikers, lots of experience and they are a very compact, very good team,” he said.
Uruguay have not exited a World Cup at the group stage in 20 years and coach Alonso knows something different and something special will be required against Ghana, who have reached the last 16 in two of their three World Cup appearances.
Alonso said he had faith in his players but they would need to take risks against a team that knew Uruguay’s strengths and would seek to shut them down.