The World Cup Preview: Group H

Group H could prove to be the most exciting group at the 2022 World Cup. Consisting of two international football titans, an African heavyweight – with recent changes of allegiance that could pay dividends – and an Asian giant whose hopes will likely rest on one superstar’s shoulders. Many may expect this group to be ran by the two powerhouses of the group, but both Ghana and South Korea have proved at World Cup’s gone by that they aren’t just there to make up the numbers.

The Portugal squad is undoubtably loaded with quality, especially when you consider João Félix isn’t likely to start and Renato Sanches didn’t even make the squad. Following an underwhelming European Championships last summer, when many considered A Seleção one of the favourites to go all the way, Portugal may see 2022 to be their year. Cristiano Ronaldo’s final crack at international football’s premier competition would have been Portugal’s main storyline heading into the tournament, but following a controversial interview with Piers Morgan, the CR7 talk is now for all the wrong reasons. If you shift your focus away from Ronaldo, there are multiple top quality players looking to make their mark on the tournament. Porto’s Diogo Costa in goals has proved to be the penalty saving king of the Champions League and will be looking to convert that sort of form onto the world stage. Manchester City pair Rúben Dias and João Cancelo are the headline names of the Portugal defence, while a Premier League contingent of Rúben Neves, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva star in the midfield.

Player to Watch: Rafael Leao

Whilst Cristiano Ronaldo remains the headline name, Milan’s Rafael Leão is one who has caught the eyes of football fans across the globe. The in-demand attacker tore apart Serie A last season and played pivotal role in I Rossoneri’s Scuddeto win. After finishing 14th in the 2022 Ballon D’or – the highest placing Portuguese player – Leão has the chance to cement himself as a household name should Portugal achieve the ultimate prize in Qatar.

After missing out in 2018, Ghana return to the World Cup with a new look squad and some familiar faces ready to contend with some of football’s greats. You don’t need to be reminded of Ghana’s epic run to the quarter-finals in South Africa, where a controversial Luis Suárez handball was all that stood between themselves and the semi-finals. A chance at revenge against the South American’s could be a factor that spurs the Black Stars into the round of 16. With a shambolic AFCON campaign behind them, success in Group H would be the perfect clean slate for Otto Addo’s squad. In the last year, Athletic Club’s Inaki Williams, Club Brugge’s Denis Odoi and Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey have all changed their allegiances to Ghana. Meanwhile, Andre and Jordan Ayew will be familiar to football fans as staples of the Ghana national team – the brothers have 194 caps between them – and Mohammed Kudus of Ajax is a player that Rangers fans in particular will know all about.

Player to Watch: Thomas Partey

Ghana have some decent players across the board, but any chance of success will be dependent on how Arsenal’s midfield rock performs in Qatar. Thomas Partey has played a key role in Arsenal’s excellent start to the Premier League, as they currently sit top of the table. The former Atlético Madrid man remaining fit and transitioning club form to the international stage will be incredibly important for the Black Stars.

Two-time World Champions Uruguay are always reliable at the World Cup. Considering they have a population fewer than Scotland, their consistently deep runs into the latter stages of the tournament are something to be commended. As the old guard of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suárez and Diego Godín are slowly fazed out, the likes of Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez will have to prove that they can collect the torch passed on from those who carried the nation through three straight World Cups and a Copa América triumph. Diego Alonso will lead in the new era following Oscar Tabarez’s exit following 15 years in charge. Switching their usual defensive style to a more pressing based approach, Uruguay will be easier on the eye than in the past, but Godín and José María Giménez’s partnership at the back will still be tough to break down.

An in form Fede Valverde is a very exciting prospect for Uruguay and the tournament as a whole. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Player to Watch: Federico Valverde

Currently one of the world’s best midfielders, Valverde is a player who can make a difference against any team – especially on big occasions. Incredibly versatile and possessing an engine that never seems to run out, he can play anywhere in midfield or attack. He was a vital part to Real Madrid’s success last season, with a starring role in their victorious Champions League run.

Competing in their tenth straight World Cup finals, South Korea will hope this campaign will be an improvement on recent showings – in which they have been lacklustre to say the least. With there being a considerable jump in quality from their continental opponents to their Group H competition, questions will be raised on whether they can make the grade in Qatar. But, they certainly have the players to make a splash in Qatar. Spurs superstar Son Heung-min makes the squad but uncertainty over his recovery from injury will provide concern for fans back home. Jeong Woo-yeong has played a big role in Freiburg’s recent rise, whilst forwards Hwang Ui-jo and Hwang Hee-chan are players that can spur South Korea onwards.

Player to Watch: Kim Min-jae

Considering the questions surrounding Son’s fitness, Napoli’s Kim Min-jae will need to step up to the plate if the Taegeuk Warriors are to see any success. But, if there’s one thing Kim can no doubt do, it’s step up. A transfer that flew under the radar in the summer, the powerful centre-back has played a pivotal role in Napoli’s incredible form this season. The 26-year-old towering monster at the back has seamlessly replaced Kalidou Koulibaly, and his defence abilities will be vital for Paulo Bento’s men.

Predictions: Group H should be business as usual for Portugal and Uruguay, with the clash between the two sides at Lusail Stadium certain to decide who tops the group. However, South Korea and Ghana could spring a few surprises and rip up the script. Portugal’s quality across the board should be enough to seal top spot, whilst Uruguay should take second place. Ghana’s squad has a bit more experience at a higher level and a bit more quality across the field so the Black Stars should pip South Korea to third place.

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