Who: South Korea vs Ghana, Group H
When: Monday at 4pm (13:00 GMT)
Where: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
FIFA rankings: South Korea 28, Ghana 61
When the final whistle blew, Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa bowed his head and solemnly walked off the pitch. It was an uncharacteristic reaction for someone who had finished his World Cup debut on the winning side. Ghana forward Inaki Williams was responsible for Costa’s moroseness.
Just moments earlier, Costa had been caught out by Williams when taking a goal kick. Williams had lingered behind at the goal and pounced on Costa the minute he put the ball down. Williams’ wiliness took Portugal by surprise, and out of nothing, he had an empty goal to fire into. But that’s where his luck ran out. He slipped as he won the ball, and his tame shot didn’t even reach the goal.
Tournament football hinges heavily on margins. Had Williams not slipped, Ghana would have made it 3-3. All four teams in the group would then have had one point. But he did, and as a result, the Black Stars enter their next game against South Korea pointless and bottom of their group. Margins.
Coming in as the lowest-ranked team of the tournament, little was expected of this Ghanian side. But what they lack in quality, they make up for in tenacity. They pushed Portugal to the hilt and were unfortunate to not come away with at least a point.
Ghana, led by their tireless captain, André Ayew, showed in their first game that they aren’t going to be pushovers. Mohammed Kudus, the 22-year-old Ajax midfielder, is the X factor of this Ghanaian side, and his sharp movements created problems for Portugal.
But questions remain over their defence, which capitulated in the second half. Portugal’s three goals flattered their performance on the night.
Ghana now play a side that failed to have a shot on target in their opening game – but has the pace to trouble Ghana.
South Korea’s goalless draw against Uruguay was the first time that both sides have failed to have a shot on target in a World Cup match this century.
The Taeguk Warriors’ defensive quartet of Kims deserve credit for keeping a clean sheet against an attack featuring Darwin Nunez, Luis Suarez, Federico Valverde and Edinson Cavani. Ayew and his team will have their work cut out for them against this South Korea side, which has prevented its opponents from scoring in its last three games and has conceded just six goals in its last eight games.
Son Heung-min sported a mask in the game against Uruguay, but South Korea’s superhero was largely ineffective. While he has struggled for form this season for Tottenham, he remains South Korea’s most potent force and has scored four goals in his last seven appearances for his country. South Korea’s pace is their key strength.
It’s a crunch game for both sides. A win would boost South Korea’s chances of qualification and they would be able to enter their final game against a fancied Portugal with the comfort of already having four points on the board.
Ghana need to avoid defeat to remain in the competition. They take on Uruguay in a tantalising final group game, in which they’ll be looking to exact revenge for Suarez’s handball clearance in the 2010 World Cup quarter-final.
That added motivation could help carry them over the finish line against Uruguay if they start that game with their qualification chances intact. The possibilities are exquisite.
For that, they need to first secure points against South Korea, against whom Ghana hold the edge in their head-to-head record, having won four of the seven games they’ve played. The last time they met, Jordan Ayew’s hat-trick led Ghana to a 4-0 win.
Both sides would likely settle for a narrower win this time. Once again, it could come down to the margins.