The Black Stars of Ghana would this evening open their campaign at the 2022 FIFA World Cup against Portugal in Group H at the Stadium 974 (Rass Abou Aboud), Qatar. Already, the stakes are high as the group opener will be fiercely contested.
This would be the second time Ghana would be playing against Portugal at the Mundial, after the two countries clashed in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Ghana, unfortunately, lost the maiden encounter against Portugal by 1-2 score line, which kicked the Stars out of the competition that year.
The last group match defeat to Portugal at the 2014 World Cup was significant, because it denied the Stars the opportunity to qualify from their group stage for the first time.
It would be recalled that, though the Black Stars were regarded as the underdogs in their maiden appearance in 2006, they progressed to the next stage of the competition, after shocking both the USA and Czech Republic.
The same fate was achieved in South Africa in 2010, but the Stars’ hope to replicate a similar performance at the 2014 World Cup, which was truncated by the Portuguese.
Ghana needed a resounding victory over Portugal in the last group game to progress to the round of 16, but the Portuguese, who had not won a game in the group, prior to meeting Ghana, emerged victorious.
This has heightened theh tension in today’s group opener, despite the fact that Portugal seems to be the better side on paper. It will be a game of revenge or repeat.
For us, at The Chronicle, as well as many Ghanaians, we are not the least perturbed about the fact that the odds in today’s game are tilted towards the Portuguese.
This is because, since the maiden appearance of the Black Stars at the Mundial in 2006, we have always been seen as underdogs, because our groups have continuously been dominated by tougher opponents.
However, we made progress to the round of 16 in our first two consecutive appearances, being the 2006 and 2010 competitions respectively.
At least, our poor outing and painful exit at the group stage in the 2014 competition has served as a learning curve, from which better and bitter lessons have been learned.
Additionally, the wonderful display of great football understanding among our players in our last trial game against Switzerland has adequately bolstered the morale of the team.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Portuguese also had a very good game against Nigeria by scoring four unanswered goals, it is important to note that Nigeria could also not beat Ghana.
In any case, Saudi Arabia proved beyond all reasonable understanding that this year’s World Cup is not about big names or the calibre of players a nation could boast of.
Rather, their stunning of Argentina has demonstrated that unlike the past where the names of certain nations placed them on high pedestals, the situation has changed drastically.
Like Saudi Arabia, Japan also came from a goal down in the first half to beat Germany by 2-1 to lend more credence to the fact that in spite of Portugal’s huge advantage, we can equally defeat them.
What is important for the gallant Stars to understand at this point is that they should device a good strategy, stick to their work rate, energy levels and be tactically disciplined.
More importantly, we have quality in the midfield, with skilful wingers who also have incredible speed and quality to take on opponents of any pedigree.
The Portuguese could be a force to reckon with, especially with their talisman Christiano Ronaldo being available for selection in the all-important duel today.
In our observation, however, we have realised that nations which have won their first games or secured points do so through discipline and taking of chances.
The Stars must, therefore, make good use of every chance that would come their way and also defend gallantly, devoid of giving dangerous set pieces to the opponents in advantageous areas.
The reigning champions of Africa, Senegal, lost their opening game but they were not humiliated, while Morocco and Tunisia have secured respectable draws.
The Black Stars must learn lessons from Saudi Arabia and Japan and stun Portugal to set a good pace for their campaign and demonstrate that we are the shining Stars of the game.
Go for the goal, Gallant Black Stars, the entire country is behind you.
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