Portugal: Diogo Costa, Joao Cancelo, Danilo Pereira, Ruben Diaz, Rafael Guerreiro, Ruben Neves, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Otavio, Joao Felix, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ghana: Lawrence Ati-Zigi, Abdul-Rahman Baba, Daniel Amartei, Alexander Jiku, Mohammed Salisou, Alidu Seydoux, Thomas Partey, Salis Abdul Samed, Mohammed Kudus, André Ayew, Inaki Williams.
Portugal: Coach Fernando Santos says the team is as integrated as it has been in years, despite the long soap opera. Nick Ames reports from Doha.
Interview: “It was then that I went to talk to my grandfather. I told him that I have a chance to play for Ghana in the World Cup and what he thinks. He immediately said that he did not have long to live and he dreams of his grandson playing for Ghana. Then there was nothing to think about. Sid Low learns that he changed the mind of the initially reluctant Inaki Williams and convinced him to declare himself Ghana, the country his parents are from and where he was conceived.
Portugal manager says: “Winning a tournament like this is extremely difficult for any team, for any country,” said Fernando Santos. “You only have to look at those first few games to see it clearly. I just watched the Croatia-Morocco game and you see very close fights.
“That’s because most of the players are in the same leagues. In a match against Ghana, for example, two or three of their players are Bruno’s opponents. [Fernandes, who was sitting alongside him] in the same league. They play for big teams and are used to the tactical aspects of the game. Previously, you would have seen the difference, but now you can’t, especially since all the coaches are of a very high level.
“We are ready for opponents who will give us a lot of problems. Ghana is a very well organized team. Their game against Switzerland showed it. African teams have great talent, unpredictability and are constantly improving tactically. Today, they are much more complete teams.”
On talking to Ronaldo: “Will it divert our attention?” he asked. “No, it will not. I have not even heard the players ever talk about it here in training, in their free time when they played games like table football, not even Ronaldo himself. Maybe in their rooms they turn on the TV, talk to their families, do whatever they want.
“But what is important is the total focus that I see in my players, and a fantastic spirit, very in tune with what they have to do, what our goals are, and at the same time aware of the difficulties that we will face, because they have a realistic look.”
Ghana manager says: “We have quality and we can compete,” said Otto Addo. “We have to be brave and confident. We have seen in some upsets that it’s the little things that decide the outcome of the games and we expect the same to happen in Portugal.”
Asked if he thinks the hype surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Manchester United will affect today’s game, Addo replied as follows. “I don’t know, and to be honest, I don’t care. It’s not our problem and I don’t think it’s a big problem. Everyone wants to win, and whatever happens, it’s a big stage, a big game at the level of the World Cup, so I don’t think it usually upsets anyone.”
Match officials today
Referee: Ismail Elfat
Assistant judges: Kyle Atkins and Corey Parker
Fourth official: Stephanie Frappart
Video Assistant Referee: Armando Villarreal
Team early news
Diogo Jota’s absence from the Portugal national team due to a calf injury means the team’s coach
Cristiano Ronaldo Fernando Santos is likely to release Bernardo Silva and one of Joao Felix or Rafael Leao along with His Lordship, while there are concerns about the suitability of PSG left-back Nuno Mendes.
Along with a backstage team that includes Chris Houghton and George Boateng, Otto Addo is believed to have no injury issues and will turn in his starting XI from a full deck. He will be forced to select an inexperienced goalkeeper after Charlton’s Jojo Vollacott and South Africa’s Richard Ofori were ruled out of this World Cup with injuries. Lawrence Ati-Zigi (2), Manaf Nurudin (2) and Danlad Ibrahim (0), the three goalkeepers for Ghana in Qatar, have only played four senior games.
The 974 Stadium, built from shipping containers and other bits and pieces, hosts today’s Group H game between Portugal and Ghana. As much as he would like it, Cristiano Ronaldo dominates the headlines ahead of this game, and after what interview with what man, an act of defiance that saw him cut ties with Manchester United earlier this week. An extremely opinionated cog in a team full of talent who often appear intimidated in his presence, it remains to be seen if Ronaldo will be more of a help than a hindrance as the team embarks on this World Cup campaign.
In Qatar, after beating Nigeria in the playoffs, Ghana Otto Addo qualified for the tournament thanks to friendly wins over Nicuragua and Switzerland, which followed a 3-0 loss to Brazil. There is speculation that Addo doesn’t know his best, but he received a boost in September when Brighton right-back Tariq Lamptey, who qualified for the Black Stars thanks to his father, decided to sign up for Ghana.
Lamptey joins his Premier League teammates Mohammad Salis (Southampton), Daniel Amarthy (Leicester City), Thomas Partey (Arsenal) and Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace) in the Ghana squad. Like Lamptey, Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams has also played for Ghana in recent months at the behest of his grandfather and various Ghanaian officials. The striker’s parents crossed the Sahara in search of a new life in Spain when Kweku was still in the womb. Interestingly, yesterday Inaki’s younger brother, Niko, came on as a substitute for the Spaniards who defeated Costa Rica.
In any case, the opening talk will suffice – the match kicks off in Doha at 16:00 (GMT), but in the meantime, stay tuned for the team’s news and preparations.