Thursday is the final day of play for Group G in the FIFA World Cup and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo will need to shine brighter than the Ghana Black Stars to earn a victory for Portugal. Both teams have one point going into the game and are fighting for the potential chance to advance out of the group of death.
Looking first at Portugal, the team is in bad shape all around. Coming into Brazil, Portugal held a FIFA ranking as the fourth best team in the world. However, chronic left leg and knee issues that have plagued Ronaldo for some time may have been the primary reason for a slow start and poor performance by the squad since the tournament started. In the first game against Germany, While Ronaldo did not appear to be suffering from the injury, the world’s top player did not play with the authority or finesse fans are used to seeing. That resulted in a poor offensive performance against the German machine. This led to a team-wide appearance of frustration, which resulted in a one game suspension of defender Pepe after receiving a red card for headbutting Germany’s Thomas Müller.
In the second game for Portugal, the team played better than in the first outing, taking an early lead on the United States. Ronaldo was not a factor during regulation time at all. The Real Madrid forward spent most of the match offsides. The few times Ronaldo found himself with an open look at the goal, the shot would not stay on target. It was not until the last second of the game that the superstar finally showed why he is the current top player in the world. On a break down the field with the added injury time running out, Ronaldo connected on an assist, a near perfect crossing pass on the run that Silvestre Varela was able to connect with for a header past US goalkeeper Tim Howard for the equalizing goal.
Portugal will need Ronaldo to shine for a full 90-minutes to have a chance at victory over the Black Stars and keep the teams hope alive to advance out of Group G to the knockout round of the FIFA World Cup. The Portuguese superstar needs a career performance to keep the teams hopes alive. If either the USA or Germany loses along with a Portugal win, goal differential will decide who will advance. Portugal dug themselves into a deep hold giving up four goals against Germany, meaning that Ronaldo and the rest of Portugal must win by a sizable victory to stay a factor in the group.
Sitting in a similar position as Portugal, the Ghana Black Stars hold a slight advantage over the European team. Both teams lost in their opening games, however, the Black Stars only lost by one goal to Portugal’s four goal defeat. Ghana is a very physical team, as they showed in the game against the United States, and Ronaldo and Portugal should be concerned. Ghana likes to use a counter-attacking offense, the same style offense Portugal uses. Ronaldo will be a likely target of Ghana’s aggressive defense to attempt to force a turnover and counter the Portuguese offense and if the star’s leg injury flares up, Portugal’s World Cup may be over.
The only injury that Ghana appears to be dealing with is from midfielder Michael Essien. Essien injured a toe in the 2-1 loss to the USA. Despite missing some of the team training sessions, Essien is expected to be in the line-up against Portugal. Earlier in the week, unconfirmed word had reached Ghana President John Dramani Mahama that the team may boycott practice sessions money owed to the players was not immediately paid in cash. The Ghanaian government flew more than $3 million to Brazil to pay for player appearance fees owed. With pockets full of cash, the Black Stars are expected to take the pitch in high spirits which could give the players that extra emotional boost needed. The money sent will be paid back to the Ghana government after FIFA pays the country for participating in the World Cup.
The Ronaldo led Portugal team and the Black Stars will both attempt to outshine each other and snatch a victory in the final Group G match-up and keep hope alive to move to the next round of the FIFA World Cup. If the teams play to a draw, both will be out of the tournament no matter what happens between Germany and the USA. Both teams will want to see a victory by Germany since the US squad has not scored as many goals in the tournament as the Germans. The goal differential needed to advance will not be known until both matches are over. As the differential stands now, the Black Stars have the advantage over Portugal. A win by either team does not guarantee a chance to keep playing. If the US and Germany would play to a draw, both would advance and the Black Stars and Portugal would face the long trip back home across the Atlantic.
Commentary by Carl Auer