Seeking to divert attention away from the never-ending Cristiano Ronaldo saga, Portugal begin another quest for international stardom when they meet Ghana in their World Cup 2022 Group H opener at Doha’s Stadium 974 on Thursday.
Fernando Santos’s side will also face Uruguay and South Korea in a challenging section, as their African counterparts face an uphill battle to make it through to the knockout stages.
Preview: Portugal vs. Ghana – prediction, team news, lineups
The headlines both inside and outside of Portugal in recent days have been dominated by one man, as Manchester United veteran Ronaldo pulled no punches in a scathing attack on the club during an interview with Piers Morgan, which could see him leave Old Trafford at best or be sacked and sued at the worst.
Ronaldo made a surprise appearance at a press conference earlier this week to demand that focus be on the football rather than his actions, as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner desperately seeks to help Portugal finally achieve the big one after several World Cup disappointments.
Despite their status as an iconic footballing nation, Portugal have only ever progressed to the semi-finals of the World Cup on two occasions in 1966 and 2006, and they have failed to go beyond the last 16 in four of their last five tournaments.
A Selecao bowed out in the last 16 to fellow Group H rivals Uruguay in Russia four years ago and have only posted a paltry three wins from their last 11 matches at the World Cup finals, although they warmed up for the competition in an ideal manner by thumping Nigeria 4-0 in last Thursday’s friendly.
Fast starts have not been a theme of Portugal’s at the World Cup, though, as Santos’s men have failed to win any of their last three opening matches on the biggest international stage, but Ghana must lace up their best shooting boots if they are to breach a defence that has only conceded two goals in their last seven games.
Following a brief absence from the World Cup in 2018, Ghana are now back where they belong and are already dreaming of sweet revenge in Group H, with Uruguayan villain Luis Suarez lying in wait 12 years after channelling his inner goalkeeper to prevent the Black Stars from reaching the semi-finals.
Before renewing hostilities with the South Americans on December 2, Ghana prepare for a baptism of fire in Qatar as they prepare for a fourth World Cup appearance since 2006, and only once have the African nation been knocked out at the group stage.
However, that disappointing exit came in their most recent appearance in 2014 – bowing out without a win to their name – and the Black Stars also failed to prevail in any of their three Africa Cup of Nations matches earlier this year before Otto Addo took the reins.
Results since the summer have caught the eye, though, as Ghana enter the World Cup having won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions – keeping clean sheets in all of those victories and only suffering defeat to Brazil during that run – and they impressively overcame Switzerland 2-0 in a friendly last week.
Portugal and Ghana are not total strangers to one another at this level of football, as Ronaldo secured a 2-1 win for A Selecao versus the Black Stars at the 2014 World Cup, and a similar contribution here would aid his efforts to make headlines for the right reasons again.
Portugal form (all competitions):
Ghana form (all competitions):
Amid his off-the-field drama, Ronaldo has been dealing with an illness and was not able to take part in Portugal’s friendly win over Nigeria, but the 37-year-old has declared himself fit and ready to go for Thursday’s opening game.
Nuno Mendes has suffered an injury scare, but Santos should otherwise be working with a fully-fit squad this week and is facing a few healthy selection dilemmas, including in goal, where Diogo Costa will hope to edge out Rui Patricio in an intense battle for the gloves.
Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo can be expected to feature in the first XI with no real questions, leaving the likes of Joao Felix, Rafael Leao, Otavio and Andre Silva to battle for the final spot in the attack, and the AC Milan starlet’s prowess on the left-hand side should work in his favour.
Similarly, Ghana boss Addo should also have all of his players available for the opening day, and the Black Stars boss also has the best kind of selection queries to contend with after resting some big names in last week’s win over Switzerland.
The likes of Thomas Partey, Kamaldeen Sulemana and Alexander Djiku will all expect to come back into the side after being named on the bench for that game, where Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew both featured from the first whistle.
Now plying his trade in Qatar with Al-Sadd, Andre Ayew would become the highest appearance-maker for African players at a World Cup with eight should he feature here, but Sulemana and Inaki Williams may be preferred from the off.
Portugal possible starting lineup:
Costa; Cancelo, Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro; Neves, Carvalho, Fernandes; B. Silva, Ronaldo, Leao
Ghana possible starting lineup:
Ati Zigi; Lamptey, Amartey, Djiku, Baba; Partey, Abdul Samed; Sulemana, Kudus, J. Ayew; Williams
We say: Portugal 2-1 Ghana
This has all the makings of a sticky opening match for Portugal, with Ghana proving a tough nut to crack defensively in recent matches and possessing plenty of youthful talent in the final third.
The Selecao faithful should not expect their side to stroll to victory in Doha, but with so many talented attacking options at their disposal, we still have faith in Portugal to grind out a narrow win and get off to the perfect start.