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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Portugal hangs on by slim margin against scrappy Ghana

A thrilling second half in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Group H opener saw Ghana come just shy of earning a result against group favorites Portugal, falling to a 2-3 defeat on Thursday in Doha. Ghana captain André Ayew cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener from the penalty spot but Portugal scored two goals in quick succession before holding off a valiant comeback effort from the Black Stars. Portugal will face Serbia in their next match on Monday while Ghana attempt to earn their first points in Qatar against South Korea.

Ghana manager Otto Addo lined up his team in a defensive 5-4-1 formation that proved to be a wise move. Portugal dominated the ball but could not break down an organized Ghanaian defense as the Black Stars gained confidence over the course of the match. A scoreless first half saw a couple of half chances for Portugal captain Ronaldo but it was a tactical victory and confidence booster for the Ghanaian team.

The match sparked to life in the second half with an excellent 55th minute run from Ghana playmaker Mohammed Kudus leading to a low long range effort that went wide of Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa’s goal. However a hint of good fortune led to Portugal’s opener in the 65th minute after Ronaldo went down in the Ghanaian penalty area under minimal contact from a Mohammed Salisu challenge, causing referee Ismail Elfath to point to the spot. Ronaldo blasted his effort past Ghana keeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi for the opener, becoming the first player to score in five World Cups.

But the Black Stars responded soon after courtesy of the influential Kudus, who snuck in ahead of Portugal center back Rúben Dias to a ball on the left wing and cut back through Danilo Pereira’s legs for Ayew to stab home the 73rd minute equalizer and the first goal scored by an African team at Qatar 2022. Before Ghana could settle back in, however, two Ghanaian defensive breakdowns led to two Portugal goals in quick succession with João Félix lifting a shot over Ati-Zigi in the 78th minute before Bruno Fernandes cleverly set up substitute Rafael Leão for a curled finish.

Ghana were not done yet as Addo brought on attacking substitutions and the Black Stars cut the deficit in half in the 89th minute after Osman Bukari nodded in Baba Rahman’s deflected cross. Diogo Costa nearly gifted a shocking leveler in the ninth minute of stoppage time after failing to notice Iñaki Williams as he dropped the ball to play with his feet but Williams slipped as he attempted to turn the ball home and the Portuguese keeper barely escaped humiliation.