If you were designing a group to contain pure World Cup energy, then it’s very likely you would end up with something like Group H, which has a delightful selection of a South American giant, a historic African side, a European heavyweight and arguably Asia’s biggest team.
The group consists two-time champions Uruguay, World Cup regulars South Korea, one of Africa’s most historic performers Ghana and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
By history and quality, Portugal is the favorite to win Group H or at least qualify for the Round of 16 along with Uruguay. This is so despite the fact that Fernando Santos’ team, with one of the most talented rosters in the country’s history, earned its ticket to the World Cup by winning one of the European playoffs after being beaten by Serbia in the group stage and then eliminating North Macedonia in the final of the C path.
Despite the fact that he is not having the best moment of his career, all eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo. The striker has always proven his ability with his national team and will be very important for his team’s aspirations. The big absentee for Portugal is striker Diogo Jota; meanwhile, Joao Felix, Rafael Leao and Bernardo Silva are expected to showcase their talents alongside a strong defense that conceded just seven goals in 10 games during the qualifiers.
The two-time world champions are one of the favorites along with Portugal to advance to the Round of 16, and they have the talent to do so. Diego Alonso, who took over for the legendary Oscar Tabárez on the La Celeste bench, will have plenty of material to change formations, as he did in the last four South American qualifier matchdays, where he used varied strategies depending on the opponent. This is undoubtedly a double-edged sword because of how quickly players must adapt to the changes.
For this edition, Uruguay will not only count on iconic names such as the forward duo of Luis Suárez and Edison Cavani, or captain Diego Godín, but it will also have a group of young talents who are succeeding in Europe at its disposal, such as Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Betancur, Darwin Núñez, José María Giménez and Ronald Araujo, the latter of whom is doubtful due to physical issues.
South Korea’s chances of finishing in the top two are quite slim. Although in 16 games at the Asian qualifiers they allowed just four goals, the Taegeuk Warriors’ defense is their weak point, so not having a quality attack would put them in a lot of trouble.
It’s worth remembering that the Koreans have a lot of experience at this stage, having participated in a World Cup for the tenth consecutive time and are the Asian team with the most appearances in history, with 11 in total.
They have a few good players, but that is not enough as they are competing with Portugal and Uruguay.
Completing the Group are Ghana, who came so close to reaching the semi-finals in 2010 before Uruguay denied them via Luis Suarez’s hand. They have decent pedigree, having made it through the group stage in three of their four previous appearances and in deep-data World Cups, Ghana average more shots per mundial game than any other side (19).
The key for the Black Stars lie in their quality and strength in midfield, led by Thomas Partey of Arsenal, as well as what two promising young players can do up front: Mohammed Kudus and Iñaki Williams. As for their weaknesses, although they allowed only three goals in the qualifiers, the offensive power of these opponents do not compare with the forwards they will face in Group H with countries such as Portugal and Uruguay.
With Portugal in their first game, Ghana know that a good start there could propel them to the second round once again, but can they do it? We shall soon find out.
Many followers of the game are tipping Portugal to finish first, but it is not going be an easy ride for the Iberians. Uruguay is also in contention for a first-place finish and can not be written off. The battle for the top spot could be decided by this game as both teams are expected to get wins against South Korea and Ghana.
Portugal and Uruguay met in the Round of 16 at the last World Cup, the Sky Blues progressed, but with a changed Portuguese team, things might be different.