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Ghana: It’s hard to say what to expect from Ghana, which is outside the top 60 of the FIFA rankings and had an unspeakably poor Africa Cup of Nations in January, finishing bottom of their group with just one point, suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Comoros along the way.
This disastrous performance earned Ghanaian coach Milovan Rajevac a P45 and was replaced by former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Otto Addo. Still employed by the Bundesliga team as a scout, he quickly led Ghana through the World Cup play-offs against Nigeria. Former Brighton manager Chris Hughton, former Netherlands international George Boateng and former Nordsjælland coach Mas Dramani are also part of Ghana’s new leadership structure.
Starting lineups for the match Portugal – Ghana
Portugal: Diogo Costa, Joao Cancelo, Danilo Pereira, Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro, Ruben Neves, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Otavio, Joao Felix, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ghana: Lawrence Ati-Zigi, Abdul-Rahman Baba, Daniel Amartey, Alexander Djiku, Mohammed Salisu, Alidu Seidu, Thomas Partey, Salis Abdul Samed, Mohammed Kudus, Andre Ayew, Inaki Williams.
An unemployed 37-year-old goes to Portugal. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Updated at 15:28 GMT
Portugal: Coach Fernando Santos says the team is as integrated as it has been for years, despite the ongoing telenovela. Nick Ames reports from Doha.
Interview: “Then I went to talk to my grandfather. I told him there was a chance I could play for Ghana at the World Cup and what he thought about it. He immediately said that he did not have much life left and dreamed of his grandson playing for Ghana. Then there was nothing to think about.” Sid Lowe discovers what changed the initially reluctant Inaka Williams’ mind and convinced him to stand for Ghana, the country of his parents’ origin and where he was conceived.
The Portugal manager says: “Winning a tournament like this is extremely difficult for any team, for any country,” said Fernando Santos. “You only need to look at the first few matches to see that clearly. I just watched the Croatia-Morocco match and you can see very even duels.
“That’s because most players play in the same leagues. Against Ghana, for example, two or three of their players are Bruno’s opponents [Fernandes, who was sitting alongside him] in the same championship. They play in big teams and are used to tactical problems in the game. In the past you would see the difference, but now you don’t, especially since all the coaches are at a very high level.
“We are prepared for rivals who will cause us a lot of problems. Ghana is a very well organized team. The match against Switzerland showed that. African teams are multi-talented, unpredictable and always improving tactically. Today they are much more complete bands.”
On Ronaldo’s palaver: “Will it take away our focus?” he asked. “No, it won’t. I haven’t even heard the players talk about it here, in training, in their free time when they play games like foosball, even Ronaldo himself. Maybe in their rooms they turn on the TV, talk to their families, do whatever they want.
“But what’s important is the total focus I see in my players and a fantastic spirit, very in line with what they have to do, what our goals are, and at the same time aware of the difficulties we will face because they have a realistic perspective.”
Portugal coach Fernando Santos (left) and Bruno Fernandes at yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock
Ghana’s manager says, “We have quality and we can compete,” said Otto Addo. “We have to be bold and confident. We’ve seen in some upsets that it’s the little things that make the difference and we expect it to be the same against Portugal.
Asked if he thought the turmoil surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Manchester United would affect tonight’s game, Addo had something to say. “I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care. It’s not our problem and I don’t think it’s a big problem. Everyone wants to win and no matter what happens, it’s a big stage, a big game at World Cup level, so I don’t think anyone minds.”
Otto Addo (left) and Andre Ayew spoke to the press yesterday at the Qatar National Convention Center. Photo: Ali Haider/EPA
Today’s match referee
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Assistant Referees: Kyle Atkins and Corey Parker
Fourth official: Stéphanie Frappart
Assistant video referee: Armando Villarreal
Ismail Elfath leads today’s predominantly American umpire team, with French referee Stephanie Frappart serving as fourth umpire. Photo: Kieran McManus/BPI/REX/Shutterstock
Early team news
Diogo Jota’s absence from Portugal’s squad due to a calf injury means Cristiano Ronaldo team manager Fernando Santos is likely to start with Bernardo Silva and one of Joao Felix or Rafael Leao up front alongside His Majesty while there are concerns about the fitness of the left PSG- The return of Nuno Mendes.
Along with a backroom team that includes Chris Hughton and George Boateng, Otto Addo is believed to have no injury concerns and will deal out his starting eleven from a full deck. He will be forced to choose an inexperienced goalkeeper after Charlton’s Jojo Wollacott and South African Richard Ofori were both ruled out of the World Cup by injury. Lawrence Ati-Zigi (2), Manaf Nurudeen (2) and Danlad Ibrahim (0), Ghana’s three goalkeepers in Qatar, have made just four senior appearances.
Lawrence Ati-Zigi is one of three goalkeepers in Ghana’s World Cup squad to make just four caps for the senior national team. Photo: Laurent Gilliéron/EPA
Group H: Portugal v Ghana
Built with shipping containers and other bits and pieces, the temporary arena that is Stadium 974 hosts today’s Group H match between Portugal and Ghana. As much as he would like, Cristiano Ronaldo dominated the headlines in the run-up to this match and will be under pressure to make an act of insubordination in the aftermath of this interview with the man, which saw him sever ties with Manchester United earlier this week. An extremely cocky cog in a team full of talent who often seem intimidated in his presence, it remains to be seen whether Ronaldo will be more of a help than a hindrance as the team kicks off their World Cup campaign.
In Qatar, after a play-off win over Nigeria, Ghana Otto Addo entered the tournament after friendly victories over Niuragua and Switzerland followed by a 3-0 loss to Brazil. There is a suggestion that Addo does not know his best side but he got a boost in September when Brighton right-back Tariq Lamptey, who had qualified for the Black Stars through his father, decided to declare for Ghana.
Lamptey joins his Premier League colleagues Mohammad Salisu (Southampton), Daniel Amartey (Leicester City), Thomas Partey (Arsenal) and Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace) in the Ghana squad. Like Lamptey, Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams has also declared for Ghana in recent months at the behest of his grandfather and various Ghanaian officials. The striker’s parents crossed the Sahara in search of a new life in Spain when “Kweku” was still in the womb. Interestingly, Inaka’s younger brother Nico came in yesterday as a backup for Spain during their demolition of Costa Rica.
Anyway, enough of the pre-chat – Doha kicks off at 4pm (GMT) but in the meantime stay tuned for team news and developments.
Updated at 14:33 GMT