Ghana bids to become first African team into semis
Johannesburg: Uruguay will be chasing its first World Cup semifinal appearance for 40 years tomorrow while Ghana is bidding to make history for Africa.
The quarterfinal match at Soccer City brings together a two-time, World Cup winner which has not gone this far since 1970 and another which is in uncharted territory, carrying the weight of an entire continent.
For decades, Uruguay has been in the shadow of South American rivals Brazil and Argentina but has now joined them in the last eight at the World Cup on merit.
The 1930 and 1950 World Cup winner, Uruguay has a solid defense and a three-pronged attacking formation with Diego Forlan playing just behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Coach Oscar Tabarez went to that system after the team labored to a 0-0 draw with France, and the result was two strikes by Forlan in a 3-0 victory over host South Africa.
Uruguay also beat Mexico 1-0 thanks to a goal by Suarez, who then netted two in a 2-1 victory over South Korea.
"He is quite calm as a coach, with a lot of experience, who knows how to handle the group very well," Forlan said of Tabarez. "The experience that he has from (the 1990 World Cup) and other teams has helped us all a lot."
Uruguay has been forced into a change in defense with Diego Godin ruled out with a thigh injury. But Forlan has recovered sufficiently from a damaged toe and will face the Ghanaians.
Ghana is without suspended players Jonathan Mensah and Andre Ayew but striker Asamoah Gyan is expected to recover from an ankle injury he picked up in the second-round victory over the United States.
The biggest problem for the last African team left in the competition is the enormous weight of expectations.
But Ghana`s Serbian coach, Milovan Rajevac, says the prospect of becoming the first team from the continent to reach the last four will motivate his squad.
"We are not thinking about the pressure. We played very well at the African (Cup of) Nations so we have already proved that we are a team that knows how to compete," he said. "We will try to relax. You know it is good for us to be here. We are very happy with the whole situation.
"We have no obligation but still we want to use this opportunity to do our best and to make history."
Rajevac said his group of players was growing in confidence with each match.
"Of course, sometimes you feel a little pressure. This is the highest level there is but we just try to do our best every match," he said. "We give the maximum."
Rajevac said his team needs to beware Uruguay`s attacking threat.
"Uruguay have been very impressive," he said. "They are a South American nation with players playing in the best leagues in Europe. They have to be one of the best teams in the world. They deserve every respect and Forlan is a fine player.
"But we will play the way that has brought us success so far. We are not going to adjust our style and we will try to use whatever weakness we can find in our opponents. What is very important is to be able to change your system as the match demands."
Rajevac guided Ghana to the African Cup of Nations in February and has taken the team to the last eight of the World Cup despite the absence of its best player, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, who has been sidelined with a serious right knee injury.
"When I came to Ghana it took a lot of hard work and now, after all this hard work, you can see the results today," he said. "I am very proud of everything we have done in the last two years."