Thursday June 26 2014

Praying for a miracle

By Mark Namanya in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro

Ghana and Portugal need a divine miracle. Their hopes are hanging on the slimmest of threads. For either one of them to advance to the second round, it will take an extraordinary trend of results.
The two sides meet at Estadio Nacional in Brasilia sitting third and fourth in Group G on a solitary point. The leaders are Germany and USA on four points.

To qualify, Ghana must beat Portugal comfortably and pray that Germany get a sizeable victory over USA. Ghana can’t get more than four points and their only chance to achieving second position is to better USA’s goal difference.

Ghana are currently on -1, USA on +1. Portugal’s task is harder. Like Ghana, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led side must beat Ghana by a big margin and hope that Germany stop USA by a couple of goals.
Portugal’s goal difference is ugly. They are on -4 after the embarrassment they suffered against Germany.
Should USA hold Germany in Recife, Ghana and Portugal will be eliminated regardless of what transpires in Brasilia.
All permutations point to Germany and USA – a draw is what both teams need - advancing, but greater upsets have occurred in the game of football before.

It is why Ghana and Portugal are not losing hope. After all it has been a World Cup inundated with the most unexpected results.
Ghana were somewhat naïve to lose to USA. It could also be argued that Andre Ayew wasted a glorious counter attack with Ghana leading Germany 2-1.

The Black Stars’ chances now hinge on the team being clinical. That probably wouldn’t have been a problem if their striker wasn’t Asamoah Gyan, a forward famed mostly for misses than goals.
The game against Portugal will be played like a final for the West Africans. After the memory of missing an injury time spot kick at the South Africa 2010 quarter finals, this was supposed to be the tournament to exorcise the ghosts of that night in Soccer City.

To their credit, Ghana have played well. They enjoyed decent spells against USA and Germany and probably deserve more than their solitary point. Kwesi Appiah’s side have nothing to worry about Portugal on the basis of the Iberian team’s disjointed show against the US.
The reigning World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo is trying too hard to make an impact at the tournament, and in so doing costing his team with his selfishness.

Although he delivered the inch-perfect cross for Silvestre Varela’s header that kept Portugal in the tournament, he has looked everything but the world’s premier footballer.
Portugal’s eternal problem is the chronic lack of a world class goalscorer to ease the burden on Ronaldo.
With former World Cup winners Spain, England and Italy all exiting in the groups, Portugal’s departure would be in line with a showpiece where reputations have been torn to shreds.

Ghana, under less pressure than their opponents, will fancy their chances of upsetting the European side.