On Sunday, November 20th – the Football World Cup (not American Football, please!) kicks off (not throw-off!) in Qatar.
As a citizen of Ghana, and an undergrad and amateur footballer in South Korea, the one match I’m looking forward to is that between the Black Stars of my West Africa birth country versus the Taeguk Warriors of my north-east Asian host nation.
That Group H match will be played on November 28.
The other two countries in this challenging group are Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Luis Suarez’s Uruguay. Yes, Suarez, who scooped the ball off the line with his hands in South Africa 2010 and denied Ghana a historic place in the semis. But I live in the present, and in South Korea so I want to focus on Ghana v South Korea at Qatar 2022.
For South Korea and Ghana, perhaps the two underdogs in the Group, this game is an absolute must-win for either of them, if they are to have a sniff of a chance at progressing to the knockout stages…
When it comes to previous encounters between these two nations, the Black Stars have come out on top in three out of four occasions, all in friendlies.
(South Korea Vs. Ghana – Football Match Summary – November 28, 2022, n.d.) via ESPN
Their most recent encounter was in 2014 in a friendly played in preparation for the 2014 World Cup, with the Black Stars winning with a 4-0 trouncing of the Taeguk Warriors. However, this encounter occurred close to a decade ago, and is not necessarily an indicator of who is going to come out on top later this month.
Current State of the Black Stars
Ghana put in an abysmal performance at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations where they were bundled out in the group stage. However, many things have changed for the Black Stars since then. They got rid of ex-manager Milovan Rajevac from Serbia and brought in Otto Addo, an ex-Ghana international, and previously assistant coach at Borussia Dortmund.
In addition, they swiftly appointed Chris Hughton, former manager of Brighton, as technical advisor. They passed their first major task: they qualified Ghana for the World Cup by beating their biggest rivals, Nigeria, in the two-legged tension-filled playoffs. It validated the decision to bring on Otto Addo and Hughton, and subsequently to have them lead Ghana to Qatar 2022.
With regards to the players, so far, the Ghana Football Association has been able to convince some European players of Ghanaian origin, namely Tariq Lamptey (Brighton) and Inaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao) to join the national team. The GFA would’ve liked to get their hands on Hudson Odoi as well but that appears to have fallen through, and we must work with the hand we have been dealt.
Ghana’s last 5 results –
Current State of the Taeguk Warriors
South Korea is heading to this World Cup with Portuguese coach Paul Bento. This would be his first World Cup with the Korean national team as he took over the team from Shin Tae-Yong whose contract was not extended after Russia 2018. In recent years, S. Korea has been regular at the World Cup; this would be their 10th consecutive appearance and 11th in total. However, they have made it only past the group stage on two occasions. But this team is led by Son Heung-min who, until an eye-socket injury in a Champions League game in in early November, had been in the form of his life. They also have other quality players such as: Hwang Ui-jo, Hee Chan Hwang and Lee Jae-Sung. Korean football fans will feel this squad can do better than they have done in previous years.
South Korea went through their World Cup qualifying group with ease. Although they finished in second spot, they finished the qualifying stage with only one defeat which occurred after they had already qualified and was the last group game, racking up seven victories in the process. Overall, their performances were admirable and head coach Paul Bento was quick to let that be known. After the defeat to the UAE in the final game he said, “The final qualification stage was really good in general. There were some difficult moments in my opinion, but this allowed us to grow up as a team.”
However, recent performances have been mixed. They annihilated the Egyptian national team 4-1 and had a comfortable 2-0 victory over Chile. Prior to these results, however, they had been at the mercy of Neymar’s Brazil, losing 5-1 and drawing 2-2 with Paraguay.
These friendlies gave Coach Bento a good opportunity to look at some new faces as the squad was missing some injury-hit players. Additionally, these allowed Bento to get a better understanding of his team, seeing the best of some of his players in the performance against Egypt, as well as an erratic backline who allowed some very easy balls to slip in between the sticks.
South Korea’s last 5 results
Players to watch out for
Thomas Partey: Previously at Atletico Madrid and now at Arsenal, the midfield maestro would play a key role for Ghana if they are to have any success at the World Cup. He is a central midfielder who can play in a holding or a box-to-box role and does both exceptionally. On a good day, he can win the midfield battles and dictate the middle of the park. (No, this is not the Arsenal fan in me talking!)
Mohammed Kudus: A dynamic and creative midfielder who is employed by the current Dutch champions Ajax. He plays in an advanced midfield role, and majority of Ghana’s good play in the second and final third of the field will come through him. He is a creative player who excels in tight spaces and has an eye for a pass. If needed, he can play in double pivot in midfield, as he is robust and defensively sound. He may even be used in false 9 role if push comes to shove; the Black Stars will need him if they are to overcome South Korea.
Alexander Djiku: A tall, strong, and quick centre back, Djiku has slowly cemented his position as a mainstay in Ghana’s backline. His reading of the game, progressive passing, and aerial prowess make him an all-rounded quality centre back and will be vital for Ghana in their attempts to keep Son Heung Ming quiet.
Son Heung-min: No doubt, millions of South Korean hearts missed many beats when their talisman fractured an eye socket in Tottenham’s 2-1 Champions League game against Marseille on November 1. One of the best players on the planet, the current English Premier League golden boot winner will be the dangerman for South Korea if he recovers fully before the team’s first Qatar match on November 24, which is probable. As it stands, Son will likely be passed fit but might need to play with a protective face mask on. Son’s pace on the counterattack, elite level finishing and decision-making in the final third make him a world-class player and if he were to turn up fully fit on November 28, it could be curtains for Ghana before the kick-off whistle goes. So, maybe, his misfortune is Ghana’s fortune.
Hwang Ui-Jo: A pressing forward who is extremely physical and has displayed his two-footed finishing, Hwang Ui-Jo will need to show up for Korea at this tournament as they aim to overturn Ghana and progress. He is currently on a goal drought on the international stage; however, he is normally a lethal finisher and was top of the scoring charts for Bordeaux in Ligue 1 last season.
Hwang In-Beom: A regular for the Korean national team, the 25-year-old is a central midfielder currently playing for Olympiacos in Greece. He is known for his high work rate and ability to carry the ball through the midfield and central areas of the field which will be vital for Korea on the transition, if they want to get the ball quickly to the likes of Hwang Hee Chan, Hwang Ui-Jo, and Son Heung Min.
Thomas Partey vs Hwang In-Beom: In football, the team that wins the battle in midfield is more likely to win the game, and that is why these players will be key as to who comes on top in this tie. They are both likely to play the number “8” role in midfield, although Partey might be deployed in holding midfield. Nonetheless, these two will come across each other many times in the game. Their ability to pick the right passes from the middle to the final third, their willingness to ensure they win the 50/50 battles, and their retention of possession through neat dribbles and simple passes will result in their team winning the midfield battle and with that, potentially, the game.
Son Heung Min vs Tariq Lamptey- As it stands, Tariq Lamptey is set to start at right back for the Black Stars of Ghana. The bottom line here is whoever starts at right back for Ghana needs to ensure they are at their very best, to keep Son Heung Min quiet. Son is a tricky winger who can finish with his right or left foot and is lethal on the counterattack. The best way for Ghana to deal with him is by keeping him wide and preventing him receiving the ball in left half-spaces. If Son has a sniff of the slightest opportunity, he will prove too strong for Yiadom or Tariq, and Ghana.
Fatawu Issahaku vs Chul Hong- This may also potentially be a matchup to look out for in the game between Ghana and Korea. Issahaku is a young blistering winger for Ghana currently playing for Sporting Cp in Portugal. Chul Hong is an experienced 31 year old left back, playing for Daegu FC in Korea. Fatawu has lots of energy and creativity and is known for his ability to skip past his fullbacks. His pace and energy may trouble Chul Hong.
Final Prediction: 1-1 Draw
I believe this game is going to be a cagey and tactical affair and will result in a draw. Overall, I believe Ghana has more quality across the pitch with the likes of Andre Ayew, Kudus and Partey. But I also feel that this is cancelled out by the likes of Korean Premier league stars Hee Chan Hwang and Son Heung Min. I also believe both squads still have lots to do in terms of maximising their chemistry as a team and gelling properly. If the game is to be won by one team, it will be due to a moment of individual brilliance, a tactical masterclass by either coach, or a fatal error by one side on the day. Nonetheless, I ultimately believe the game will end in a draw and unfortunately for both teams, they need 3 points in this game to have a chance at reaching the knockout stages.
Ohene Kofi Sakyi-Addo, Ghanaian student, Incheon National University, South Korea.