It feels almost insane to use the word “rivalry” about two teams that are nowhere near one another geographically, have only faced off once before, and that one matchup was 12 years ago. But that’s the atmosphere that will surround Ghana vs. Uruguay this Friday. Qualification will be on the line, but the source of all of the bad blood is the two sides’ first rematch since Luis Suarez’s infamous goal-stopping handball, which prevented Ghana from reaching an extremely historic quarterfinal. Nevertheless, Ghanian players and fans alike will have to leave the past in the past, and not let an individual vendetta get in the way of the ultimate revenge; moving on to the knockout stages while simultaneously ending Uruguay’s tournament, as the South American giants come into this one with just a single point. Let’s get into the odds and make some picks for a very intriguing matchday 3 clash.
Ghana Vs. Uruguay Odds
Uruguay are pretty significantly favored in this one; they’re -140 to win, while Ghana and the draw are set at +400 and +285, respectively. For goalscoring, under 2.5 goals is a very slight favorite at -120.
Ghana Vs. Uruguay Prediction & Pick
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this matchup, there’s one thing that immediately has to be talked about; qualifying scenarios. For Ghana, it’s pretty simple; win and you’re in. A draw also likely works, although it involves a bit of scoreboard watching; Portugal have to either draw or beat South Korea, or lose by just one goal, and in that incredibly niche scenario Ghana would need to end up with more total goals scored than South Korea as well. Uruguay are in a bit more of a pinch; a draw does them absolutely no good, and even if they do win, they have to be rooting for Portugal to win or draw against South Korea- if Uruguay and South Korea both win, it comes down to goal differential and all sorts of fun stuff. Both teams in this match are eliminated if they lose.
This is a big one for Ghana. Since that fateful match against Uruguay in 2010, they got obliterated in the 2014 group stage, and did not qualify in 2018, so a return to the knockout rounds would be a huge step in the right direction. For Uruguay, missing out on knockouts would be quite the letdown; they’ve done it three tournaments in a row. It may be surprising to some to see Ghana ahead of Uruguay on the table, but let’s give credit where it’s due- they’ve looked the far better side so far. Both squads lost to Portugal, but Uruguay were fairly silent in the 2-0 defeat, while Ghana looked lively and came incredibly close to equalizing through some inventive play by Iñaki Williams at the very end in a thrilling 3-2 match. Uruguay were of course held to a scoreless tie by South Korea, and it could be argued that they were outplayed- surely there was no danger in the attack that, to this point, has still not registered a goal at this tournament. Meanwhile, Ghana played another absolute classic of a match against South Korea, in which they came out hot and racked up a 2-0 first half lead, before blowing that- but they kept strong, and found a huge winner shortly after allowing the equalizer. This Ghana side is more attacking, and frankly has shown much more heart and resolve than Uruguay have.
A lot of people thought Uruguay would breeze through this group, myself included, although I have not believed in this squad to make a run the way some have. They’re incredibly overrated, and frankly have looked complacent and deserving of the predicament in which they find themselves. In short, they’ve been exactly who I expected them to be. Ghana, however, have not- I thought Uruguay could advance due to a lack of competition, but this has been far from the case. In a match where a win is almost certainly not necessary, Ghana will sit back and play less risky, exciting football than they have put on display over the first two matches; they’ll get the job done and move on in a low-scoring match. I’m taking u2.5, and while my official pick on the three-way moneyline is the draw, I would urge any prospective bettors to look for a Ghana double-chance. The value is good at just more than even money, and frankly, I do not want to be rooting against a Ghana goal at any point in this tournament. It’s just a recipe to feel let down.
The Midfield Battle
It’s tempting to want to talk about the attack that’s ripped off five goals in two matches so far, but considering they don’t necessarily need to win this time out, I think Ghana’s midfield will be much more important to their success against Uruguay. That midfield has been something of a moving target; after getting outpossessed by a margin of 62% to 38% against Portugal, Ghana switched from a 3-5-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1. This significantly changing the shape of their effective midfield three, only to get outpossessed again by a mark of 63% to 37%. Still, their chance creation was a lot better in the second match, and of course they did win, so I’d expect them to take that approach against Uruguay. In both matches, Arsenal star Thomas Partey has been joined in the middle by Ligue Un youngster Salis Abdul Samed. In the Portugal match, they were joined by Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus as another central midfielder, but despite a solid performance, he got dropped in favor of adding a CAM to the formation, in the form of team captain André Ayew, who was moved back from his opening-match position of striker. The overall approach worked, but Ayew seemed less comfortable than he did up top so we’ll see what happens against Uruguay.
Despite switching formations, Uruguay have basically kept the same midfield three in both matches, it was really just the shape of the attack and defense that changed around them. That midfield is arguably the best positional group on their team, as it features a serious talent in Tottenham man Rodrigo Bentancur, one of the best up-and-coming stars in the World, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, and a solid Serie A veteran, Matias Vecino of Lazio. All three were solid in the match against South Korea, in which Uruguay possessed and passed fairly well, although they struggled in terms of chance creation. They were outpossessed by Portugal, but certainly created more chances- Bentancur in particular had a great day. Valverde has been one of the best players in the World during the club season this year, but hasn’t found that form at all for his country in this tournament. He’ll need to be closer to his best if Uruguay are going to secure all three points and have a chance to move on to the round of 16.
Uruguay Attackers vs. Ghana Defenders
Uruguay, on the other hand, do need to win, and that’s going to be really hard if they continue to get shut out as they have in their first two games of the tournament. In the opening match, running a traditional 4-3-3 formation, Uruguay slotted legendary striker Luis Suárez in the middle, although sadly he showed his age and only played an hour before giving way to fellow past-prime legend Édinson Cavani. Both were extremely mediocre. Suárez was flanked by his Liverpool heir-apparent Darwin Núñez on the left wing, a puzzling choice for a player who is not only very much a pure striker, but not even that good in that role as of late. Man United youngster Facundo Pellistri played right wing, and he was alright as he created two chances, but very minor ones. Manager Diego Alonso responded to the lack of scoring production by…switching to a more defensive formation against Portugal, eliminating wingers and playing a two-striker attack, comprised of Cavani and Núñez, who were both completely ineffective by any measure before both exiting at the 72’ mark. The attacking players are supposed to be the headliners for Uruguay, but they’ve been completely nonexistent; everything from off-ball movement, to passing, to finishing will all need to improve on a dime if they’re going to stay in this tournament. Sue me if I’m a bit hesitant to believe it’s going to happen just like that.
While there’s been a lot to love about Ghana through the first two matches, their defense up until the 70th minute or so against South Korea is not part of that. After giving up three goals with a back-five against Portugal, Ghana switched to a back four against South Korea and experienced fairly similar results by most measures, except of course the outcome of the match overall. Of the five defenders who started against Portugal, only two centre-backs survived to start again against South Korea. Those two are Leicester City’s Daniel Amartey, and another Prem player, youngster Mohammed Salisu from Southampton, who was not only excellent defensively, but scored the opener as well. One particularly impactful change was at left back; Abdul Rhaman Baba was pretty definitively Ghana’s worst player in the defensive disasterclass, while his replacement against South Korea, Gideon Mensah, was a definitive positive contributor before exiting in the waning minutes of the match. After trying drastically different lineups with varying, but general minimal degrees of success, I’m curious how the Ghanian defense will look against Uruguay. Ghana’s defense against Uruguay’s attack is a matchup between a very movable object and a profoundly stoppable force- something’s got to give, or not give I guess- it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out in an incredibly enticing and impactful match.