Portugal vs. Ghana, 2014 World Cup preview: Both sides need a win

Portugal and Ghana meet in Brasília on Thursday, with both sides needing to win to stand any chance of making the knockout stages.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

Portugal may have kept their hopes of making the knockout stages alive with a last-gasp equaliser against the United States in their last match, but those hopes are still very slim indeed. Heading into the final slate of Group G games they're sat bottom, and need to beat Ghana and hope the United States lose to Germany to stand any chance of making the knockout stages.

Indeed, that scenario playing out isn't all that unlikely, though given that it would only move Portugal level with the USMNT, it'd come down to goal differential. With Portugal's a whole five goals worse than the USMNT's, their task looks rather more difficult. They're currently level on points with their opponents Ghana, though with the Black Stars' goal differential just a couple worse than the USMNT's, they're in a better position to qualify than the Selecção.

Team news

Portugal's left-back Fábio Coentrão and Hugo Almeida will miss out through injury, while knocks to backup fullback André Almeida and striker Hélder Postiga mean they're both doubtful.

Ghana have been in even more chaos ahead of this match, with neither Kevin-Prince Boateng nor Sulley Muntari set to appear after they were sacked by the Black Stars for fighting in training. Emmanuel Badu will likely take Muntari's place alongside Mohammed Rabiu in the midfield pivot, while Jordan Ayew is expected to return to the starting lineup in Boateng's absence.

Projected lineups (left to right)

Portugal (4-3-3): Beto; André Almeida, Pepe, Bruno Alves, João Pereira; Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho; Silvestre Varela, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani.

Ghana (4-2-3-1): Fatau Dauda; Kwadwo Asamoah, John Boye, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful; Emmanuel Badu, Mohammed Rabiu; André Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Christian Atsu; Asamoah Gyan.

Key matchups

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. the Ghana defence - Cristiano Ronaldo looked the world's best player last season, though he's struggled in a poor team so far at this World Cup. However, his incredible attributes means he should never be taken lightly. It's possible Ronaldo will pose an unexpected threat for the Ghana centre-backs in this match, as he may be shifted from the left wing to a centre-forward position in the absence of striker Hélder Postiga.

João Moutinho vs. the Ghana midfield pivot - With Ronaldo having underperformed so far, João Moutinho has probably become their most influential player. The central midfielder is a wonderful passer, and can spray long balls out to Portugal's attackers or drift forward to create from a more advanced position. Should Ghana's defensive midfielders restrict his influence, they'll cut off a big supply to Portugal's attackers.

Christian Atsu vs. Portugal's left-back - Portugal's first-choice left-back Fábio Coentrão has been ruled out for the remainder of the group stages, leaving versatile fullback André Almeida covering in defence. However, Almeida too is in doubt for this match after picking up a hip injury, which could lead to someone else slotting into a wholly unfamiliar position. One man who would take advantage is Ghana's tricky right-winger Christian Atsu, who has been excellent at the World Cup so far.

Prediction

Portugal are a stronger team individually, but their talent is strongly tilted towards the attack rather than the defence. We can expect them to score a goal or two, though they may not have enough to keep a dangerous Ghanaian attack quiet -- assuming the Black Stars aren't too rocked by their off-field turmoil. 2-2.

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