World Cup Group H predictions: Uruguay can upset Portugal
Group H looks a fascinating section, with big-name teams from Europe, South America, Africa and Asia bringing massive names and contrasting styles to the World Cup.
And with the managers of two of its teams adopting tactics that go against the natural strengths of their squads, Group H could provide more than its fair share of surprises.
Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez remain the stars of the Uruguay squad but their greatest strength these days lies in midfield.
Federico Valverde is becoming one of the world’s most exciting players at Real Madrid, tempo-setter Rodrigo Bentancur is flourishing at Tottenham and Lazio’s Matias Vecino adds defensive grit.
Ahead of them, one of Cavani or Suarez – they rarely line-up together anymore – will be flanked on one side Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez, blending elite quality with physicality.
At the back, 36-year-old Diego Godin remains alongside Atletico teammate Jose Maria Gimenez – at least until Ronald Araujo returns to fitness – but what Godin now lacks in strength he makes up for in knowhow.
This will be the first World Cup since 2002 that Uruguay have not been managed by Oscar Tabarez, but Diego Alonso looks a fine replacement.
He has been getting the most out of a squad that has some weaker areas but has no shortage of quality.
A supremely talented squad makes Portugal group favourites and the Iberians have more than enough quality to go deep into the competition.
There are elite options at full-back, Pepe and Ruben Dias are a top-level centre-back pairing and the likes of Joao Palhinha and Joao Mario will struggle for minutes given the options in midfield.
Up front, Atletico’s £113million man Joao Felix and Serie A’s 2021-22 player of the year Rafael Leao will be vying for starts ahead of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva.
However, the leadership is a concern.
Manager Fernando Santos can be painfully pragmatic and while that brought Portugal their first major title at Euro 2016, it also contributed to poor performances at Euro 2020 and Russia 2018.
A late injury to captain and talisman Son Heung-min was the stuff of nightmares for a South Korea team who lack star quality elsewhere.
Son is expected to play, albeit in a protective mask, and the likes of Napoli centre-back Kim Min-jae and Wolves winger Hwang Hee-chan bring quality at either end of the pitch.
However, few other players in the squad come close to their quality and the style adopted by Portuguese manager Paulo Bento has caused issues.
South Korea are at their best as a quick-breaking, ruthless counter-attacking side and Bento’s insistence on bringing a more controlled, possession-based style arguably plays to the squad’s weakness and fails to maximise its strengths.
Ghana were fortunate to make it to Qatar having been outplayed by Nigeria in the playoffs but scraping through thanks to an inspired display from goalkeeper Joe Wollacott.
That the Charlton stopper has now been ruled out through injury is a significant blow and while Ghana boast the likes of Thomas Partey, Tariq Lamptey, Jordan Ayew and Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams, the team lacks experience as a unit.
Many within the squad only recently pledged allegiance for this World Cup and a pitiful display at the Africa Cup of Nations in January, where they lost to minnows Comoros, does not bode well.
Portugal have the attacking quality to thrill but are again likely to play in a reserved manner, while South Korea are a team screaming out for counter-attacks but will try to dominate the ball against the excellent passing units of Portugal and Uruguay.
If they each played to their strengths, Portugal would look worthy favourites and South Korea would be interesting dark horses.
However, the clash between the qualities of those squads and how they will be asked to play makes this a very tough group to predict.
Given that uncertainty, it would be wiser to try for a couple of minor upsets rather than back the group to follow the pattern that the market predicts – albeit to small stakes in a volatile section.