This one started with scandal and ended in sorrow. Ghana and Portugal both crashed out of the World Cup at the group stages in Brasilia. Though Portugal rallied late to beat the Black Stars 2-1, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo's 80th-minute strike, they leave the tournament eliminated - level with USA but out on goal difference.
Kwesi Appiah's men, subjects of a farcical 24 hours involving fisticuffs, fistfuls of cash and near-comical foolishness, leave Brazil disgraced; not for their football - enterprising, energetic and uplifting at times - but because of their unseemly off-field skullduggery. Here's how Stats Zone saw it.
Ghana’s pre-match self-imposed suspensions of Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng actually lent their team a decent shape and didn't prove to be the death-knell of their chances as some had feared. Boateng, whose call-up - despite retiring from international football after South Africa 2010 - has surely proven to be a mistake, was replaced by defensive midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, a more sturdy defensive option to maraud in central positions, while clinical striker Waris Majeed was drafted in up front in place of Muntari.
On paper it was more of a 4-4-2 system, with Christian Atsu and Andre Ayew patrolling the wide areas, though Waris would often drift wide.
Portugal, meanwhile, drafted William Carvalho and Ruben Amorim into midfield, with Miguel Veloso filling in at left-back due to injuries. Raul Meireles was dropped to the bench while Eder got another chance up front after two relatively mediocre substitute appearances against Germany and USA.
There was a nice, open feel to the game early on as both sides looked to attack and stamp their authority on the game. Ronaldo hit the crossbar as early as the fifth minute, a cross-come-shot he would surely say he meant. Seven minutes later Ronaldo stung keeper Fatau Dauda’s fingers with a well-hit free-kick, punched away for a corner. Portugal did all the early passing with William Carvalho, Amorim and Moutinho providing a solid midfield base.
Portugal carved out a glorious chance in the 19th minute and Ghana had to be grateful to Dauda for an excellent save. Joao Pereira's cross from the right hand side found Ronaldo but his header from point-blank range was instinctively saved by the Ghanaian stopper, who proceeded to go mental at the sheer delight of making such a key save. A minute later Beto then made a fine stop at the other end of the field to prevent Gyan, a low save with his feet. It was warming up, a very open game with chances at both ends.
The deadline was broken after half an hour. A Ghana move unwittingly stopped by the referee gave Portugal possession, and a cross from the left by Veloso was sliced by John Boye into his own net. Disaster.
Ghana looked as though they were trying to take advantage of Portugal’s weaker left hand side early on, but they weren't getting much luck. Indeed, more joy was coming down their own left hand side, with Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah lively.
Dauda spent most of last season sitting on his tod on the bench for Orlando Pirates in South Africa but was having an impressive game, making a number of good saves and commanding his area well from crosses, for the most part. Appiah's decision to drop No.1 keeper Adam Kwarasey after the USA game looked wise. In attack, Waris was drifting out wide and running the channels, trying to help create 2 v 1 situations and outnumber Portugal’s full-backs, but he wasn’t having much of an impact. Eder was once again struggling for Portugal.
Portugal went in 1-0 up at half-time. They were on top but Ghana had carved out chances too. Despite Veloso playing out of position at left-back, the Black Stars were finding more joy down Portugal’s right side, and at the break it seemed this was something Kwesi Appiah might consider pointing out to his players, a tactical readjustment that might change their fortunes.
A star for Juventus, Kwadwo Asamoah was having a fine game when he saw the ball, but at left-back he wasn't involved enough - an issue that hindered Ghana in previous games too. He and Nani created the first half's most chances.
Maybe Appiah had taken heed of the warning signs on the field, because Ghana concentrated more down their left early in the second half and it worked wonders. In the 57th minute, Asamoah set up Asamoah Gyan with an outrageous outside of the foot first time cross onto his head. 1-1 - a world class cross from Asamoah converted by Gyan, who in scoring became the top-scoring African in World Cup history.
Such inspirational passing from Asamoah only increased the nagging feeling that Appiah might have used the Juve man – by far Ghana’s best player - in a more influential position than at left-back.
On the hour mark Waris Majeed missed a big chance to give Ghana the lead, heading another cross from the left, this time by Gyan, wide. At the very least he should have hit the target. It was a bad and, ultimately, costly miss. Ghana were, however, making better use of their left side, with Asamoah influential.
Portugal responded by hauling right-back Joao Pereira off for a more attacking option, Silvestre Varela down the left flank. The game had remained open: despite Portugal managing 58% possession the number of shots on goal was even, as was the scoreline.
If there is one aspect to their game that has blighted Ghana all tournament, however, it's been slack defending, vacuums of concentration at key moments. In the 80th minute another one came and it led to the winning goal for Portugal.
Nani's cross from the left was headed into the air by Jonathan Mensah, and instead of calmly palming the ball out for a corner Dauda plonked it straight down into the centre of the box, a gift for an unmarked Cristiano Ronaldo. He wasted no time, thrashing home left-footed into the bottom corner of the net before moodily refusing to celebrate. A terrible goal to concede, after numerous quality reflex saves Dauda undid all his good work in a moment of madness. Ronaldo had finally got his goal.
On as a substitute, Jordan Ayew, who had a wretched, wasteful tournament, was lucky not to get sent off for an elbow on William Carvalho. Despite getting into good areas, Ayew's passing was wasteful in the final third (not for the first time) as Ghana looked to get a second goal. Despite coming on with 20 minutes to go he didn't attempt or complete a single forward pass.
It was starting to turn into a personal duel between Dauda and Ronaldo at this late stage – the Ghanaian keeper made 2 more saves to deny the Ballon d’Or-winning Portuguese peacock.
Ultimately though, Portugal’s control of the midfield battle paid off, while Ghana’s error-prone defence and ongoing tendency to switch off at crucial moments cost them once again. USA go through to the next round, leaving both teams in Brasilia to tearfully ponder what might have been.
Facts and figures
- John Boye’s own goal was the 4th of this tournament. There were 2 two in the whole of the 2010 World Cup.
- Ghana have conceded in each of their last 7 World Cup games.
- Asamoah Gyan (6) became the outright leading African World Cup scorer, going clear of Roger Milla.
- Gyan has been involved (scored or assisted) in 9 of Ghana’s 13 World Cup goals.
- 5 of Ghana’s last 6 World Cup goals have come after half-time.
- Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 3rd World Cup goal, with his 67th shot (including blocked shots). All 3 of these goals came in the final 10 minutes of matches.
- Ronaldo became the first Portuguese player to score in 3 World Cup tournaments.
- Portugal won for only the second time in their last 10 World Cup matches.
- Portugal became the first team since Greece in 1994 to use 3 goalkeepers in a World Cup tournament.
- This match contained 35 shots (including blocks). Only 4 matches in this tournament have contained more.
- Ghana go out in the group stage for the first time ever (in their third World Cup). Now only 3 teams have never exited in a World Cup opening group stage: Germany, Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland