Ghana face tough Uruguay test
Ghana will go into Friday's semi-final against Uruguay with continental advantage and the support of much of Africa, but the loss of several key players in the midfield could make this their toughest match to date.
Key man Michael Essien was ruled out long before the tournament started, but the performances of Andre Ayew and Kevin-Prince Boateng have compensated and Ghana have now matched the achievements of Cameroon and Senegal in reaching the quarter-finals.
Yet Marseille winger Ayew - the son of Ghana legend Abedi Pele - will be suspended after an unfortunate booking. Named man of the match against USA, team-mate John Pantsil said he proved "he could carry the whole side on his shoulders", and he supplied Asamoah Gyan for the winning goal.
German-born midfielder Boateng, who became eligible for Ghana just a month before the finals, has also proved hugely important, offering skill, creativity and goals, yet he could be ruled out. Coach Milovan Rajevac said he was injured in the final group game against Germany and, while he was fit enough to open the scoring against USA, he had to be substituted in the 78th minute.
It is fortunate that Inter Milan's Sulley Muntari, who was nearly axed after a dressing room bust-up, was allowed to remain with the squad and should be fresh to come in. A knock for Gyan, who has scored three of Ghana's four goals in South Africa, is a further concern, but it seems he is set to feature.
Uruguay, meanwhile, have conceded just one goal so far in South Africa, but their defensive solidity could be hindered by an injury to centre back Diego Godin, who has been ruled out. Fortunately for Uruguay, more significant is the continued presence of strike duo Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, who have contributed five goals between them already.
After struggling in qualification, boss Oscar Tabarez has said he is surprised to see Uruguay among the final eight this year, but he feels they can continue to defy the doubters. "Let's see how far we can go on this stage," he said. "We are not building castles in the air, but I don't see why we should be resigned to anything. We don't have to renounce anything before playing the matches."
Uruguay player to watch: Luis Suarez.
He scored 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax, and he has now found his goalscoring touch on the biggest stage. His goals have now seen off Mexico and South Korea already, and a clinical touch tends to make all the difference at the World Cup.
Ghana player to watch: Asamoah Gyan.
Having scored both the country's group stage goals from the penalty spot, Gyan fired home in open play to secure victory against USA. While there is plenty of talent in midfield, options in attack have been a problem for Ghana, so it is essential Gyan is fit and firing if they are to progress, particularly given the doubts over Boateng and Ayew.
Key battle: Diego Forlan v Richard Kingson.
While few expected Wigan's third-choice goalkeeper to become a hero in South Africa, Kingson excelled against USA and he may need to turn in a repeat performance given Uruguay's firepower. Forlan has not scored since his brace against South Africa, but he remains a real danger.
If Ghana win, they will become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.
Ghana had gone 433 minutes without scoring in open play before Kevin-Prince Boateng fired home against USA. Uruguay had gone 390 minutes without conceding before Lee Chung-Yong scored for South Korea.
Uruguay (2.10), the draw (3.10) and Ghana (4.00) with Bet365. You can get 15.00 on Luis Suarez to score the only goal of the game for Uruguay.
Ghana should be able to rely on the support of the majority, but Uruguay have progressed by keeping things tight while taking their chances. They were on the back foot for long periods against South Korea but rarely allowed them any clear-cut opportunities, and a narrow Uruguay victory looks the most likely outcome here.