Oh it’s the Cristiano Ronaldo group! All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in what promises to be a tricky group. Portugal is joined by Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea to make up Group-H.
While Portugal vs Uruguay may seem like the biggest match in the group stage, the fixture between Ghana and Uruguay might just be tastier. The fixture is a rematch of a famous South Africa 2010 World Cup quarterfinal fixture in which Luis Suarez denied Ghana a place in the semifinal by deliberately handling the ball on the goal-line — Suarez was sent off, and then Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the penalty but failed to convert. Uruguay went on to win the match on penalties. We’ve all seen tactical yellow cards; that was a tactical red card.
Enough about the past, let’s take a closer look at each team and what to expect at the World Cup.
FIFA Ranking: 61
Manager: Otto Addo
Qualified Via: CAF third-round winners
2018 World Cup Result: failed to qualify
The “Black Stars” of Ghana come into this group as dark horses. They are the group’s weakest-ranked team and have the fewest appearances at the World Cup. Ghana is a relative newcomer to World Cup football, having participated for the first time only in 2006. The Black Stars have gone on to feature in 2010 and 2014.
The 2010 tournament in South Africa was Ghana’s best-ever outing. A quarterfinal finish folowing the aforementioned infamous last-minute penalty miss by Asamoah Gyan remains a painful memory in the hearts of millions of Ghanaian football lovers to this day.
The Black Stars have had to endure a testing time in recent years, failing to even qualify for the last World Cup in 2018 due to uninspiring performances, internal politics, and a change of coach. In 2021, the Ghanaian National Team welcomed back Milovan Rajevac, the manager who guided them to the quarterfinal finish in 2010. Rajevac was shown the door in January 2022, just weeks before the crucial World Cup playoff against Nigeria, which Ghana won.
Otto Addo, a former Black Star international, was immediately announced as his replacement and has since remained in charge. Addo helped guide the country to an away goal victory against a star-studded Nigerian team.
On a positive note, the Ghanaian national team has recently enjoyed a bit of an uplift due to the influx of dual nationals to the squad. The likes of Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey, Bristol City’s Antoine Semenya, Club Brugge’s defender Denis Odoi, Hamburg’s Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer, Karlsruher Stephan Ambrosius, and the biggest of all Athletic Club’s Iñaki Williams have all pledged allegiance to Ghana. There’s also Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu honoring his call-up request after years of rejecting it with the goal of focusing on club career development.
Familiar with the Fantasy Champions league? Kudus has been one of the popular names among UCL fantasy-league managers. Despite Ajax’s underwhelming campaign and group-stage exit, the tricky attacker was a thorn in opposition defenses.
Kudus played as a false nine in a fluid Ajax attack and was instrumental in every attacking move. However, the presence of Inaki Williams means Kudus will most likely have to play a role on the wings or just behind the striker. Either as a striker, winger, or an eight, you can rest assured that Kudus is a huge goal threat for the Black Stars.
Five goals plus one assist in 13 La Liga games show that Williams can be Ghana’s go-to man in Qatar. He will be eager to impress his new teammates and fans at home when he represents his country for the first time at a major tournament. The energetic striker unexpectedly decided to cut short his Spain career after one cap, switching allegiance to Ghana just in time for Qatar. Williams is currently on a six and half year run of featuring in every La Liga game for the Basque club. He is currently on a run of over 240 consecutive games in La Liga for Athletic Bilbao, meaning getting injured will be the least of your problems if he’s added to your FPL team.
A surprising selection? Partey has enjoyed a phenomenal campaign for Arsenal this season. The defensive midfielder has been crucial to Arsenal’s place at the top of the table, helping to break up play and start attacks while also contributing two goals and an assist. Though featuring in the same position, Partey is known to shoot more and make more attacking runs while playing for the Black Stars. Partey has scored 12 goals and created six in just 28 appearances for the Black Stars.
FIFA Ranking: 28
Manager: Paul Bento
Qualified Via: 1st place in AFC Group A
2018 World Cup Result: Group stage exit
Just over two decades after a fourth-place finish at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korea hopes to at least match that feat in Qatar. The Taegeuk Warriors have not missed a World Cup since 1982, competing in eleven consecutive World Cup tournaments.
Despite being seasoned, they have failed to develop into world beaters. The team has enjoyed very little success since its 2002 run, making it out of the group stage just once in the last four tries. South Korea has won only three of its last 13 group stage matches, the 2018 win over Germany known as “The Miracle of Kazan” being the biggest of all. The team’s only advance past the group stage came in 2010, when they were defeated by 2022 group rival Uruguay.
In preparedness, South Korea seems to be the most in-form team in the group. When coach Paulo Bento took charge in 2018, they were ranked 58th in the World, a position which has since improved to 28th. Bento has led the team to a 2018 Asian Cup victory. The nation also sailed through World Cup qualification matches, losing just one of 17.
A lot of expectations will be placed on star man Son Heung-min. The Tottenham attacker scooped the Premier League golden boot alongside Mohamed Salah last season, scoring 23 goals. While Son’s ability isn’t in question, there’s much to be asked of his supporting cast. The majority of the Taegeuk Warriors squad is made up players plying their trade in the Korea K-League. Will they have enough quality to get the better of their group rivals? Will Son even be fit enough to feature in Qatar?
Of course, first on the list of the team’s superstar and poster boy Son. Son has endured a slow start to the 2022-23 campaign for Tottenham in the league and Champions League. The attacker has scored only five goals plus two assists in 19 games, well below his output from last season. While he has endured a slow start for Tottenham, he has been in imperious form for his country in recent fixtures.
The baby-faced assassin scored 35 goals and added 17 assists in 106 appearances for South Korea. Son has appeared in two World Cups for South Korea, scoring once the first time and twice in his second outing. Is he set to score three goals in his third outing?
Napoli center-back Min-Jae should partner experienced Kim Young-Gwon in the center of defense. This South Korean defense conceded just two goals in its last five matches. Min-Jae’s biggest attraction however is his ability to pop up with crucial goals from set pieces. The Napoli defender has a commanding presence.
FIFA Ranking: 14
Manager: Diego Alonso
Qualified Via: Finished third in CONMEBOL qualifiers
2018 World Cup Result: Quarter-final exit
Up next is Uruguay with a population of only 3.5m, less than half the population of London. Despite its relatively small size, La Celeste has won the World Cup twice, a feat that can only be boasted or bested by six other nations. Uruguay has a long-storied relationship with the World Cup, as host claiming the trophy for the first time in 1930, a miracle era that also saw them win back-to-back Olympic golds in 1924 and 1928. The second Cup win came in unexpected fashion, a huge upset over Brazil in 1950.
The country’s small size has never been a deterrent on the field of play, the nation has achieved three semifinal outings since its last triumph, the last in 2010. The explosive side was led by mercurial Diego Forlan, who became the reference point of the Jabulani match ball used at the World Cup due to his breathtaking ability to perfectly strike it.
Luis Suarez was also a part of the 2010 squad. His participation in that tournament will, however, be remembered more for his handball incident against Ghana. Suarez and Edinson Cavani were also part of the contingent that made it to Russia’s last eight in 2018.
La Celeste, like Ghana, recently changed managers. Long-serving manager Oscar Tabarez was ousted last December in favor of Diego Alonso after a run of four straight defeats, which jeopardized their participation in Qatar. Alonso came in and helped turn the tide by winning the next four, which was enough to secure a place in Qatar.
It is not yet known how Alonso will set up his side. He is thought to shape his team game by game depending on his opponent. His side is also known to switch formations during a match to respond to opposition. However he decides to set up his team, he will be able to rely on an established center-back pairing of Raul Giminez and Ronald Araujo (currently in a race to be fit). The captain of the team, Diego Godin, is on hand to step in for Araujo if needed or if the coach decides to go for a back three.
Midfield is where the squad has mostly improved from its last outing in Russia. The likes of Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde have come of age to become world-class players. Valverde in particular will be the team’s poster boy, having enjoyed a meteoric rise in the last two seasons at Real Madrid. Up front, aging Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez will be eager to make their last World Cup outings memorable while the young Darwin Nunez will be eager to make a statement of his own.
Eight goals and two assists in just 18 matches for Real Madrid this season tells you all that’s to be known about Valverde’s improved output in front of goal. The midfielder has been encouraged to shoot the ball more by club manager Ancelotti and the returns are there for all to see. Valverde’s energy and precision will be crucial to Uruguay’s chances of having a successful tournament. He is known to be an all-rounder who helps in defense and attack from minute one to ninety. Valverde will be especially eager to make a statement after he was denied a place on the Plane to Russia in 2018 due to injury.
Signed for 85m by Liverpool in the summer, Nunez has endured a testing start to life at Merseyside. He has in recent weeks, churned out much-improved performances for the Reds from the right flank, which has coincided with the club’s recent upturn in form. The presence of Cavani and Suarez means Nunez will likely to restricted to a role on the flanks once again. Being on the, however, doesn’t limit his chances to making things happen at the business end of the pitch.
Luis Suarez & Edinson Cavani
Both aged 35, Suarez and Cavani are most likely out to make their last hurray at a major tournament for the La Celeste. The legendary pair have combined to score 126 goals in 265 appearances for Uruguay. Suarez is coming into the competition off the back of a title-winning season for National in which he scored eight goals in 14 games. On the other hand, Cavani is currently plying his trade at Valencia, where he has scored four goals in seven games this season. The duo’s ability is undoubted and unquestionable. The only question around them is if they can the physical rigors of the World Cup.
Fifa Ranking: 9
Manager: Fernando Santos
Qualified Via: Via Playoffs
2018 World Cup Result: Round of 16 exit
Euro 2018 champions and the highest-ranked team in the group, Portugal is the team to beat in Group H. The Seleção come into the World Cup as one of the tournament favorites, and the added presence of Cristiano Ronaldo only increases the team’s expectations.
Portugal is competing in its sixth consecutive World Cup but has never been to a final. The closest they have ever advanced was a semifinal finish at the Germany 2006 world cup. Portugal has since failed to make it to the quarterfinal stage, suffering round of 16 exits in 2010 and 2018 with a humiliating group-stage elimination ending their 2014 campaign. In the past three World Cups, Portugal has won only three games, a against Ghana in 2018 being one of them.
The Seleção have, however, enjoyed success in other competitions, which ignites hope of the team setting new standards in Qatar. A semifinal finish in Euro 2012 was followed by Portugal’s first-ever major silverware at Euro 2016. The Seleção showed that the victory was no fluke by winning the first-ever Nations League tournament in 2019.
Despite being one of the competition’s favorites and boasting one of the best crops of talent at the competition, Potugal made it to the World Cup only via the playoffs. The Seleção have become playoff specialists, this their third consecutive World Cup after qualifying thus. An unexpected loss to Serbia in their last qualifier confined them to the playoff, where they had to get the better of Turkey and North Macedonia to book a spot in Qatar.
It is impossible to talk about Portugal’s chances at the World Cup without talking about the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is on a sort of last-chance mission to win the elusive World Cup before he calls time on his international career. Winning the World Cup will crown what has been an illustrious career that will be remembered 100 years from now.
There has, however, been noise concerning his position as a certain starter and captain of the Portuguese national team due to recent unimpressive performances. Ronaldo has found the going tougher than usual this season, scoring just one goal in ten Premier League games.
However, knowing Ronaldo and his monstrous mentality, all these factors will only add to his unending desire to prove doubters wrong in Qatar by leading the Selecao to their first-ever World Cup triumph. Will Ronaldo be able to do it?
Of course, we start with Ronaldo, the team’s primary source of goals. Cristiano currently holds the world record for international goals, scoring 117 in 190 caps for the Selecao. Despite talks about his age and form, Ronaldo remains crucial to Portugal’s chances of having a successful tilt at the World Cup.
Familiar with FPL? Cancelo is a popular name among FPL managers, and he should remain so in the FIFA World Cup Fantasy game. Cancelo plays a huge part in Portugal’s attack down the right wing and should be an excellent outlet for crosses for the impressive Cristiano Ronaldo. That combination is one that could light up the World as Ronaldo is as good as it gets in the air. The Selecao also looks like good candidates to secure a shutout in at least one of their group stage fixtures.
An injury to Liverpool’s Diogo Jota means AC Milan star Leao will most likely be handed a spot on the left-hand side of Portugal’s attack. The striker has been in impressive form for AC Milan this season, scoring six goals and providing four assists in 14 Seria-A matches.
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How do you see Group H unfolding? Will Cristiano Ronaldo set the competition alight? Who do you think will pick up the second position? Will there be surprises? Please log in, take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments!
Which teams do you expect to make it through group H?
Portugal and Uruguay
Portugal and South Korea
Portugal and Ghana
Uruguay and Ghana
Uruguay and South Korea
South Korea and Ghana