Ghana are facing the prospect of an early elimination from World Cup 2022 Group H when they travel to the Education City Stadium to face South Korea on Monday.
The Black Stars fell to an agonising 3-2 defeat to Portugal on the opening day, while their Asian counterparts impressively held Uruguay to a goalless draw.
A total of four goalless draws were played out on matchday one of the 2022 World Cup, and while South Korea put in a good shift in their scoreless stalemate with Uruguay, the woodwork did have come to their aid on a couple of occasions.
Federico Valverde and Diego Godin both saw efforts crash off the frame of the goal as Paulo Bento’s side held on for a point against their South American foes, demonstrating their defensive solidity that was also present in their most recent games before Qatar.
South Korea and Uruguay cannot be separated by points, goals or fair play points after matchday one, as the former seek to give their hopes of a top-two finish a major boost with victory over Ghana and edge closer to a knockout berth for the first time since 2010.
By avoiding defeat in their opening battle, the Tigers of Asia come into their clash with Ghana having only lost one of their last 10 in all competitions, and the Kim Min-jae-marshalled defence has kept three clean sheets in succession during a four-game unbeaten run.
Despite their prowess in the defensive third, South Korea failed to post a shot on target for the second time in four World Cup games during the Uruguay stalemate, and Ghana certainly knew a thing or two about keeping teams at bay during the build-up to Qatar.
Another World Cup group game, another goal for Cristiano Ronaldo, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner could only watch on from the bench in horror as A Selecao very nearly threw away a two-goal lead against Ghana on Thursday evening.
Following Ronaldo’s penalty, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao struck either side of Andre Ayew’s response before Osman Bukari reduced the deficit further, and the howler of the tournament award very nearly went to Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who rolled the ball out without knowing that Inaki Williams was behind him.
The Athletic Bilbao forward immediately tried to pounce on that gilt-edged chance right at the death, but he slipped at the vital moment as Ghana succumbed to a 3-2 loss, which leaves them bottom of the Group H standings and at real risk of an exit before the final matchday.
No matter what transpires in Uruguay’s showdown with Portugal, Ghana will be out if they suffer defeat to South Korea at the Education City Stadium, but a six-game scoring streak at the World Cup does stand the Black Stars in good stead.
Monday’s game will mark the 10th meeting between South Korea and Ghana in all competitions, with the last six yielding three wins apiece for both nations, but Ghana ran out convincing 4-0 winners during the most recent battle in a 2014 friendly.
South Korea fans rejoiced in the return to fitness of Son Heung-min, who donned a protective mask against Uruguay after his recent eye socket fracture and came through the game unscathed.
However, fellow Premier League attacker Hwang Hee-chan – who was an unused substitute on Thursday – is dealing with hamstring discomfort and will not be able to feature here.
Bento has also been handed a concern over key centre-back Kim Min-jae, who has been dealing with calf discomfort and is classed as a doubt for the contest.
As for Ghana, Otto Addo lined up in a defence-heavy formation for the showdown with Portugal, which very nearly paid dividends, but the need for victory could see the Black Stars shift to a four-man defence here.
Addo should be working with all 26 players for Monday’s meeting, where any change in system would likely put Mohammed Salisu’s place at risk as Bukari and Kamaldeen Sulemana push to return in a more attacking setup.
Andre Ayew won the battle of the brothers with Jordan Ayew to start in the loss to Portugal, and the Al-Sadd man’s goal last time out should be enough to see him retain his place alongside Williams.
Andre Ayew did train separately from the team alongside right-back Alidu Seidu on Friday, but there is nothing to suggest that the duo will not be ready for Monday.
South Korea possible starting lineup:
Seung-gyu; Moon-hwan, Min-jae, Young-gwon, Jin-su; Jung, In-beom; Na, Lee, Son; Ui-jo
Ghana possible starting lineup:
Ati Zigi; Lamptey, Amartey, Djiku, Baba; Partey, Abdul Samed; Sulemana, Kudus, A. Ayew; Williams